Advice to the List-Less: Dream Big, Aim Low

Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman September 15, 2011 17:37

I began to get the question as soon as I turned 65: “What’s on your bucket list?”

Life expectancy tables say I have less than two decades left before I shuffle off. So friends are wondering whether I want to skydive, cliff dive, scuba dive or dive headlong into any other death-defying, irrational pursuits befitting someone a fraction of my advancing age.

My question: Why did no one ask about my bucket list when I was irrational and immature enough to actually do some of those crazy things?

Blame George Bush, John Glenn, Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman.

Bush the elder celebrated his 80th and 85th birthdays by jumping out of a plane at 13,000 feet – and shaming the rest of us by bragging about it on TV.

But he couldn’t top John Glenn. In 1998, the pioneering Mercury astronaut became the oldest man in space when, at 77, he flew aboard the shuttle Discovery.

Nicholson and Freeman, however, may be the real culprits. Before they played two terminal cancer patients who climbed pyramids, flew over the North Pole and rode motorcycles on the Great Wall of China in the 2008 movie of the same name, “Bucket List” was not in the cultural vernacular.

Nor was there any guilt over having no bucket list, or having a boring, unsexy list that reads more like a scrawled column of groceries or the weekend’s honey-do orders.

So what are we list-less seniors to do?

We could cobble together bucket lists full of stuff we did in our younger years. Trouble is, few of us were rash or stupid enough to risk life, limb and job prospects by bungee jumping from bridges, free-climbing sheer cliffs or flying hang gliders into trees.

We Friends and Neighbors Boomer readers, presumably, were instead responsible young men and women. Doing 40 in a 25 or listening to Elvis or the Beatles in defiance of our parents was about as edgy as some of us got.

Others, like me, had somewhat embarrassing life lapses that might make for a retroactive list like this: 1. Down three pitchers of beer at a college bar and somehow drive home. 2. Go through sophomore and junior years without a date. 3. Get stopped for speeding in Nevada, where there isn’t supposed to be a limit. 4. Go through six jobs in less than two years. 5. Cream a nice-looking British sports car by ramming it into a deer.

In contrast, there are super-macho, over-the-top lists that maybe .0001 percent of older Americans take on: 1. Climb El Capitan. 2. Run a marathon. 3. Hike the Pacific Coast Trail. 4. Ace an IQ test, join Mensa and play genius-level chess. 5. Write a transcendent novel.

I have nothing against the few seniors with such abilities and ambitions, but to the rest of us I say, “Forget it.” We might as well set out to cure cancer, build a cold-fusion-powered car, win the Nobel Peace Prize or hang with Charlie Sheen and his stable of bimbos.

My advice will be heresy to coaches, teachers and that new generation of Tiger Moms and Dads: Aim low.

What, I ask, is wrong with this downscaled list? 1. Climb the stairs every day. 2. Lope through the local two-mile run. 3. Walk to the store. 4. Solve the Sunday crossword puzzle. 5. Write a letter.

Or what if your list is all about bringing you closer to your spouse, children, parents and dear friends? Who could fault that?

If this advice is too practical, here are a few more intriguing bucket-list options:

  • Aim really low: The least ambitious among us likely don’t have the gumption to make a list. But if they did, it might look like this: 1. Stop short of minimum dietary requirements. 2. Achieve variety in life by changing channels. 3. Place a high priority on sleep — spend up to 20 hours a day either in bed or on a recliner. 4. Stay fit by watching sports on TV — the Tour de France is an especially good workout.  5.  Occasionally, but not too often, think about doing more.
  • If money’s no object: Open your checkbook and try this list: 1. Book a space flight on Virgin Galactic. 2. Give your new, supermodel wife the Koh-i-Noor diamond, a Lamborghini, and, when the cash-strapped state sells it, Hearst Castle. 3. Leave the waitress at Jeb’s a $100,000 tip.  4. Food at your care home bland? Buy the place and bring in chefs from Chez Panisse. 5. Hire a crackerjack cryogenicist to freeze you, making that bucket list unnecessary.
  • You can dream:  Nobody will fault your success rate if your list includes only the clearly impossible: 1. See our lawmakers put their differences and reelection ambitions aside and act only in our best interests. 2. Understand the fine print in insurance policies and medical bills. 3. Fill out an IRS return without professional help. 4. Figure out and use every last feature of a cell phone. 5. Be at Wrigley Field when the Chicago Cubs win the World Series.
  • Second childhood: You can still live out what you only dreamed of as a kid. 1 Down a gallon of ice cream in one sitting. 2. Ride a fire engine. 3. Eat dinner every night for a month at Chucky Cheese. 4. Don’t go to school for the rest of your life. 5. Keep the TV on all the time and never clean up messes.
  • Second adolescence:  This list would require a level of libido that few seniors have. This, and issues of taste and propriety, necessitate this somewhat abridged bucket list: 1., 2., 3., 4., 5.

Finally, being a new senior citizen, my research wouldn’t be complete without asking a veteran senior, my 93-year-old mother, for her views.

“Bucket list?” Betsy Bateman pondered. “Isn’t that the list of things you want to do after you die?”

If she’s right – and I dearly hope she is – all bets are off and all lists are possible.

© 2011 Friends and Neighbors

Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman September 15, 2011 17:37