During the pandemic lockdowns in 2020 and early 2021, I didn’t dream about hiking the Inca Trail, camping under the Northern Lights or skydiving (as if). Sure, I missed vacations, but most days my so-called bucket list was much simpler than that.
Bliss would have been “dinner and a movie” at our local rep theatre, live music in a small venue, an impromptu get-together INSIDE the home of good friends. On the really sad days, I yearned for the ultimate bliss – a raucous, engrossing dinner with our two sons and their wives. And the restorative closeness of a long hug.
As the pandemic lockdown plodded on, I learned to find small joys in comforting routines – morning coffee on the back deck, regular walks with a close friend, an evening glass of wine, the opening credits of a promising new Netflix series. I suspect some of my friends were doing the same: I can’t recall seeing so many Instagram photos of cloud formations pre-2020.
Of course, I should have been well prepared for the pandemic. I had a test run in 2019 after a poorly choreographed pratfall down the basement stairs. (Hint: don’t wear slippery socks in the house.) I broke my left femur and collarbone. Surgery implanted a titanium rod in my thigh. Physio took time. Although brave friends were able to visit, I was otherwise shielded from the outside world – confined to the main floor of our house where my ever-patient husband, Dwight, had transformed the dining room into a makeshift bedroom.
That summer, my bucket list amounted to figuring out how to manoeuvre the infuriating patio door – such a shallow ledge but so impossible to cross with a walker – so that Dwight and I could play Scrabble in the summer breeze.
By early September that year, my goal-setting shot through the roof – being mobile enough to attend our son Nick’s wedding to Nathalia Sanches, which they had so thoughtfully moved to a venue just a few blocks from our Kitchener home. Our son Nate and his wife Emma Sarconi were there too, and I was even able to ditch my cane and stand unsupported for a family photo. Such precious memories.
But the real point is this: I’m pretty sure that staying upright for a family photo would not have been on any “bucket list” I might have conjured up a year earlier. Bucket lists are supposed to be big. Dazzling. Way beyond everyday life. … Until they’re not.
As we trudge toward winter and a worrisome fourth wave of the pandemic, I
wonder whether bucket lists make us happy and hopeful or sad and unfulfilled? What if buckets lists were achievable goals instead of aspirational? Within reach, but deeply appreciated.
I thought about all of this as I worked on my book about my grandmother earlier this year. As I read her letters from the first half of the 20th century, I wondered what she would have thought about my modern-day “needs” and dreams. I imagined telling her about my refreshing morning shower – no need to haul water and heat it on the wood stove for a sponge bath. I imagined explaining how to use a clean, efficient flush toilet. I imagined handing her a cellphone so she could text, message or call some distant relative.
Surely, any one of the innumerable conveniences we take for granted would have been like a mind-blowing miracle.
Still, her letters showed that despite the challenges of daily labour, the threat of serious illness, and the anguish of young people going off to war, she found joy and fulfilment in her rural Ontario community.
So why do I think I need a bucket list to find happiness?
I thought about this further when I read Kate Bowler’s essay in the New York Times. Kate, a Canadian-born author, podcast host and Duke University prof, learned hard lessons about well-meaning self-help philosophies after being diagnosed with stage-four cancer at age 35. Suffice to say, a suggestion to focus on her bucket list wasn’t exactly what she wanted to hear. Deep joy for Kate was the simple act of snuggling up to her small son.
And then I recalled my dad, Everett Elmhurst, admonishing me for “wishing my life away.” On that particular day, I was wishing Saturday could come faster so I could join local teens at Riverside dancehall in Hastings. Dad was shoeing my horse at the time. So I could go riding on our large farm. Alone in the woods with my horse, two dogs and my thoughts. If I could have that week back now, what would I relish – a peaceful ride through beautiful woods or a stressful evening immersed in insecure teenage angst?
As the pandemic drags on I need to remind myself: Life is a series of moments, many of them small and seemingly inconsequential. But they are my moments. And they are flowing by right now.