I just finished watching The Bucket List, a Rob Reiner film featuring the brilliant veteran actors Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. Both play characters with cancer, who have a few months to live. So the idea of the “bucket list” comes about: a list of the things they’d want to do before they ‘kick the bucket’. It is really a philosophical question: what are the things you’d want to do if you knew you were dying?
Also, in the film, when Freeman’s character is told he has less than a year to live, his voice over says that they once conducted a survey where people were asked if they would want to know the exact day they would die. 96% answered “no”. I never loved surprises, but then again I’ve never been great with deadlines either. So I don’t know where I fit in with either demographic.
But I wonder now, if I did know the exact day of my death, what would I be doing right now? Would I do I always wanted to do? Would I say what I always wanted to say? And once those big philosophical questions are answered, what would I do, and what would I say?
This of course inspires more questions. Questions like why do the majority prefer not to know? Is it because of that fear that we won’t ever get to do the things we want to do, so why depress ourselves about it? Is it because we don’t know what to say, or to whom to say it, even if we had the chance? Is it because we’re scared of those two variables, more than the inevitability of death?
Every New Year I used to write these lists. Resolution lists. Of course, like most people, my resolutions never seem to work out. They usually last until February, if that.
But I figure now, maybe it’s because of two things.
One. There’s no great motivation other than the “desire to change” or “be different”. Arguably, death, or rather, the inevitability of an approaching date with death, is a much greater motivator.
Two. The lists are small apples. They include the best-of, standard, conventional things like losing weight, reading more books, learn a foreign language, try to travel more. There’s no grandness to it. Nothing like “experience something majestic” or “build a house” or “write a book” or “get a tattoo” or “create something in the world that people will remember you for”.
If I did get a tattoo it would read “Memento Mori”, latin for “Remember Death”.
Just to keep me focused. On what’s important.
Meanwhile, I think I have some writing to do.