What’s On Your Bucket List?

What’s On Your Bucket List? June 25, 2023

East Anglian Railway Museum, Chappell & Wakes Colne station, Essex; 2 August 2015; Source: Bucket list; Author: Rob Mitchell; Creative Commons.

Summer is in full swing. Countless people are taking vacations or planning trips that have long been on their bucket lists. New research building on behavioral economics adds to the import of such trips, as we are encouraged to “buy experiences, not things.” “Moment-to-moment experiences” constitute happiness, according to Matthew Killingsworth.

In no way do I wish to discourage people from planning or going on such trips. I just know my wife and I can’t plan them, that is, not so long as our son Christopher is lying on his back in an adult care facility. I suppose one could say that’s our choice, and that would be true, I guess. But I tend to think many parents would do the same if their child had endured TBI or a similar life-altering tragedy. We are simply drawn to our beloved son. He’s one of the wonders of our world.

Even so, we are investing in moment-to-moment experiences. We have our own form of bucket list. We travel fifteen minutes to Christopher’s bedside every day to experience him anew, whether he is sleeping, smiling, tearing up, doing a fist bump or raising his arm in response to a prompt, squeezing a finger or hand, and putting his two arms through his shirt sleeves. Perhaps you could call that list of seven something like our seven wonders of the world. If Christopher speaks, make it the eighth wonder!

No doubt, there are many definitions of what constitutes a bucket list. According to Stanford Medicine, “The bucket list is defined as ‘a list of things that one has not done before, but wants to do before dying’. It allows us to reflect on what matters most to us, our personal values, and identify important life milestones and experiences that we want to have.” Stanford Medicine also asserts, “Your bucket list is not a static list of impossible fantasies. Rather, it is a ‘value map’ for your future your life milestones and accomplishments.” We should all develop bucket lists.

Bucket lists are not static but evolving. Our bucket list involving Christopher is expanding due to the extremely slow though actual progress he is making. We want to assist Christopher in whatever way possible so that someday he does not simply put his arms through his shirtsleeves but can dress himself. A few very patient CNAs take time to allow Christopher to collaborate in dressing him. They are good role models for us. I ask his RTs to put his speaking valve on him in the hope that Christopher’s brain will rewire in terms of breathing and speaking. We will rejoice if he can dispense with the trach someday, where Christopher breathes permanently through his nose and mouth, talking our ears off, just like old times. We long to experience Christopher putting away the feeding tube and eating and drinking whatever he wants—on the house!

I pray over this bucket check list at his bedside, and add that my son might someday joke, laugh, and cry out loud again, see clearly from both eyes, stand up on his two feet, walk, even run. Those experiences are definitely on my evolving and expanding bucket list of things to experience in my lifetime.

Of course, there are still other items on our bucket list. We hope to take Christopher to Rome, Italy someday. He’s always wanted to go to Rome.  We would also love to take him back to London, England, where he was born, to Nagano, Japan, where he visited several times, or to one of his favorite vacation spots in Oahu or the Big Island of Hawaii.

Closer to home, we long for him to live with us again. He suddenly smiled when I told him the other day that Mom and I hope he can come and live with us in the future. That is not possible presently, but we are praying toward that end.

My expanding list of writing projects, which puts wind in my sails, has taken on new meaning and texture since undergoing this tragedy. I dare not waste suffering and must continue to be creative in the midst of suffering in honor of Christopher and of Christ, whose name he bears. Otherwise, I might as well kick the bucket now.

What’s on our bucket lists? Our bucket lists will vary. But whatever is on them, may we be sure to be “bucket fillers.” As the children’s book for people of all ages titled Have You Filled a Bucket Today? claims, bucket fillers are those who fill one another’s lives with acts of kindness and compassion. It truly is a guide to happiness. With this point in mind, I plan on getting a Starbucks Traveler again today for the staff at my son’s care facility. So many of them are very kind to Christopher and us, and we enjoy expressing kindness and gratitude to them. It’s always better to fill buckets than kick buckets, isn’t it?! There’s so much joy in filling buckets with joy, or coffee, as the case may be.

My good friend Tom Krattenmaker got me to thinking about these various matters related to bucket lists in an article titled “A Life That’s More Than a Bucket List.” He reflects upon my family’s journey with my son Christopher and the aftermath of his TBI. Tom also draws upon the work of his colleagues at Yale Divinity School in helping us to think about what really matters in life. Here’s an excerpt:

“In the popular imagination, the goal is to figure out who you really are, what you really want, and how you can fulfill your identity and desires. Much of education and training are focused on efficiency and effectiveness. How can you succeed at what you’ve set out to do?

Rarely do we ask: What’s worth doing? What’s worth being good at? And the whopper: What’s worth wanting?”

May we remember that people are worth wanting more than things, and experiencing people and experiencing life with people you love, and granting people experiences of love and kindness, often brings great joy and happiness, meaning and purpose, even amid deep sorrow. If that is not one of the many wonders of the world, I don’t know what is.

About Paul Louis Metzger
Paul Louis Metzger, Ph.D., is Professor of Theology & Culture, Multnomah University & Seminary; Director of The Institute for Cultural Engagement: New Wine, New Wineskins; and Author and Editor of numerous works, including More Than Things: A Personalist Ethics for a Throwaway Culture (IVP Academic, forthcoming in 2023). You can read more about the author here.

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