- At the Desert Retreat House -
There was a story in yesterday’s paper about some folks on their way to a long-awaited and long-planned family vacation in Las Vegas. As they were traveling to their destination, an unexpected wildfire swept across the Interstate Highway and they had to abandon their car that had caught on fire - they never made it to Las Vegas. In the news article yesterday, the mom tearfully lamented, “We have been planning this vacation for two years now. We couldn’t stop talking about it, I thought about it every day - and now it’s over even before it began.”
That news story reminded me of an ad I saw recently from a local travel agency inviting people to plan their summer vacations so they can check off some of those places on their “bucket list.” It seems as if “bucket lists” are pretty popular nowadays, especially in areas where a lot of older folks live - lists of those places you want to visit or things you want to do before you “kick the bucket.” I guess it’s ok to have a “bucket list,” the problem is that like the family who never made it to Las Vegas, you can spend an awful lot of time and energy thinking about that vacation that will never actually happen.
I think today’s “bucket list phenomenon” is probably very emblematic of the kind of spiritual dead-end so many people encounter when they live for the days to come, and in doing so often miss the days that are here.
I am reminded of a little “saying” that comes out of the literature of the ancient Christian Desert Monks - a piece of wisdom a mentor shares with one of his young charges who is constantly making “big plans” for what to do in the days ahead:
The old Abba told a younger monk,
‘You’ve not yet found a ship to sail in,
nor put your luggage aboard, nor put out to sea,
and yet you are already acting as if you were in the city you mean to reach.’
I think the old Abba’s words of wisdom might easily be shared with a lot of people in our own times – so many of us live in a future that hasn’t yet happened and may never even come to be.
The renowned author, Thomas Merton, spent his entire life writing about the spiritual life, and the older he got the less he found value in preparing any sort of “bucket list” of things he yet wanted to do or places he wanted to see before he died. He wrote:
The one thing that has grown most noticeably in my spiritual life
is the grip the ‘present’ has on me.
As I am getting older I am more and more aware of
the reality of now- the unreality of all the rest.
Merton also said:
When ambition ends, happiness begins.
Maybe that’s what all this “bucket list” stuff is ultimately all about- maybe it is all about living a life driven by “ambition?” So many of us are driven to making those endless plans we feel we need to make to assure our legacy or to get to the top of the ladder before time runs out. The only reality is now, everything else is unreality and when ambition ends, happiness begins.
I guess I have a “bucket list” of sorts – to be honest I don’t take it all that seriously. After all, my car could catch on fire and the vacation I had planned would be over before it even begins.
So I’ll just sit in my garden, watch a hummingbird and give my wife a kiss.