My daughter Katrina began training for a half marathon a while back, so I watched as she worked her way up from regularly running two to three miles to eight to ten miles. As I watched her run, I recalled and evaluated my own youthful running exploits, and I also began to devise my “Reverse Bucket List.”
A “Bucket List,” as most people know from the 2007 movie starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson, is a list of all the things people want to do before they “kick the bucket.” Personally, I’ve never actually written down everything I want to accomplish before I die, but I have had certain tasks lurking in my brain for a while. Unfortunately, most of those tasks no longer inspire the same passion and enthusiasm as they did 40 years ago. Thus, since I can’t honestly cross these tasks off my Bucket List, I’ve simply moved them to my new list, my Reverse Bucket List, a list of all the tasks that I’ve definitely decided not to accomplish during my lifetime.
The first item on my list is running a marathon. When I was in my early twenties, I thought I might like to test my endurance by running 26.2 miles. How hard could it be, I thought? I found out soon enough when I ran my first few three-mile races (5K) and later finished a six miler (10K). I discovered that running is hard work. I also found distance running to be boring and monotonous, and I never experienced a “runner’s high.” So after watching Katrina endure all of her training, I finally decided I will never run a marathon, and, quite frankly, I feel pretty good about my decision, a high of a different sort.
The next item on my list is skydiving. A friend of mine once had a job writing feature articles about outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking, and exploring caves. Usually, she participated in the activity and, then, wrote about it, but she freely admitted that she would never write about skydiving because it terrified her. “I’ll do it for you,” I volunteered. “It looks like fun.” She never took me up on my offer, though, and again, forty years later, skydiving has lost its appeal. It no longer looks like fun to these sixty-year-old bones. Indeed, skydiving does look terrifying and intense, and while I won’t admit that I might be afraid, I think I’m perfectly content now to watch others jump out of an airplane with only a parachute between them and their Maker.
My third activity, bungee jumping, is one I never even considered in my twenties because I had never heard of it. Apparently, however, this activity goes back thousands of years to the Aztec civilization and became popular in America in the 1980’s. The young, male Aztecs tied vines to their ankles and jumped off high towers to test their bravery and to mark their passage from boyhood to manhood. Today, both young males and females use specially made bungee cords and jump for pure thrills and excitement. I think if I had to pass this test to graduate, I’d still be in high school. Fortunately, at my age, people don’t expect me to take this particular “leap of faith,” so I don’t think I will.
My final task is buying a motorcycle. My college roommate used to own a big Harley-Davidson, and he would periodically give me rides up and down the highway. “This is pretty cool,” I observed at the time, and I assumed it would be even cooler if I had my own bike, and I could ride those windy mountain roads in the Adirondacks or out West. And after college, during a two-year stint in the Peace Corps in Costa Rica, I even had a small Honda 100 at my disposal for short trips into the countryside. “I’ll buy my own bike when I get home,” I told myself, but, again, it never happened. Instead, when Katrina and her sister, Maria, were seven and nine respectively, my wife and I bought cheap mountain bikes for all four of us, and that’s all the bike I’ll ever need. I’ve even added a more comfortable seat and a basket to the front for short trips to the store, so my motorcycle dream has faded with my hairline and my hair color.
Now I realize that some people might look at my reverse bucket list and assume that I’ve given up, that I’ve already died by forsaking my youthful fantasies. I like to think otherwise. I feel like I’ve finally matured. I no longer care to accomplish tasks that entered my brain when I was young and energetic and foolish and when, quite honestly, I wanted to do everything. After all, as James, the brother of Jesus, once wrote: “What is your life? You are but a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14). So, since my life is but a mist, I’m finally eliminating all the chores that were secretly labeling me a coward or a failure. Instead, I am heading into the final stages of my life a happy and content man — doing not what my younger self wanted to do yesterday but what my older and wiser self wants to do today.