Image description: Hand writing a list in a notebook
The etymological emergence of the term “bucket list” has a surprisingly short and uneventful history, peeking in a failed blockbuster and ending in an unintended yet enduring idiomatic legacy. Released in the notorious year of 2007, Rob Reiner and Justin Zacham’s The Bucket List follows the zealous adventures of two male cancer patients pursuing must-have experiences before they “kick the bucket.” Yet, the promising pairing of Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman was ultimately a flop, with reviews such as that of the New York Times deeming the film “a preposterous, putatively heartwarming buddy comedy about two men diagnosed with terminal cancer living it up in their final months.” This is all to say that the popularization of the notion of the “bucket list” is not as fundamentally academic or historical as one would assume. In fact, it was really a mere Hollywood play on words—a movie title that has since erupted into a motivational trend that very few can be said to have not taken part in.
Whether or not you choose to embrace the original, more morbid meaning and list the things you hope to do before you ‘go west’, the bucket list Is an unmatched tool for both symbolic and active self-motivation. Yet, like most things nowadays, the concept may need slight revision in light of the less-than-zealous nature of our Covid-stained lifestyles. While longer term goals like skydiving or a visit to the Great Wall can be put on the backburner (for now!), the reopening bucket list can still call for some hefty tasks – or even self-exploration if that’s what you’re into.
Personally, the realization that life will not at any point immediately return to normal has been among the hardest aspects of this pandemic for me. Bucket lists are a wonderful concept when one wishes to jump back into life at full force, but slow reopening doesn’t necessarily allow for such idealistic efforts. I think accepting this fact is crucial to approaching the future with a realistic optimism that doesn’t leave you pummeled by your own unmet goals. It is one thing to maintain hope for normality, and another to have a checklist frustratingly left blank simply because it’s impossible to complete.
Still, the bucket list has in no way become obsolete. On the contrary, these unprecedented times simply call for a twofold approach to our natural drive for experience. My own approach has been somewhere along these lines:
Bucket lists are a wonderful concept when one wishes to jump back into life at full force.
I am, in no sense of the word, dying. At the ripe age of 21, I likely have plenty of life ahead and plenty of time to do those things that we all dream about doing. I look at the trajectory of my life so far as a period that has been not only long but eventful. I still remember my 16th birthday, and one day, I’ll likely remember writing up this article. In creating my own form of a bucket list, I settle into this fact with a lovely sense of comfort. I list things I’d like to do one day, like own my own dog and visit Japan, knowing that I am on my way to such experiences. They may be tens of years or months away, but I am content as long as I check them off before I kick the bucket. This is the first prong to my approach—what one would probably see as the traditional concept of a bucket list. It revolves around ultimate goals and desires, depends on personal drive and hope, and is more based on the means than the end. Think: I’m going to do all these things, but how?
Things get a bit more complicated when you insert a global pandemic. Access and privilege prevent many from indulging in those dreams of travel and experience that many seek, and this is an unfortunate truth. Yet, Covid has at once exacerbated such inequalities and equalized many across planes of privilege. Think: I am banned from doing these things, so how do I do these things? The answer is, quite simply, you can’t.
I remind myself, now, that all is not lost because I won’t see Japan for another year. I’ll be okay without my own dog for a little while longer. This is undoubtedly a result of my own privilege, but it’s also a form of acceptance regarding the mutual situation we all find ourselves in. It’s not ideal, but it will one day pass to the ideal. For me, that ideal will be a medium-sized furry companion all my own. I just can’t have that right now. I therefore set this particular bucket list aside. I seal it in an envelope marked “For better days” and slide it to the back of my desk drawer. I take out a new sheet of paper and title it “For now.”
This brings me to my final bucket list. It Is my mid-pandemic list that does not end in death, but the opening of my envelope for better days. It consists of those goals which drive my day-to-day life now: small tasks to remind me of passions that emerge even in the roughest of landscapes. I think this bucket list is easier read than over-explained.
Bucket List for Now:
Buy a new pair of shoes without feeling guilty about it
Unabashedly dip your feet in the Thames
Say no to plans you don’t want to go to and watch your favorite movie instead
Eat ice cream, do a face mask, and call it self care
Ask your favorite barista their name, then thank them
Call your parent or sibling and tell them how you’re really doing, whether its been a fantastic day or the worst in awhile
Take the train anywhere for a day
Ask that person you’ve been thinking of for a walk
Make a point to open your window more
Naturally, the list goes on. Perhaps, at this moment in time, bucket lists are not so much about reaching our highest heights. There is no better time to take small and unapologetically selfish leaps forward and put the uncertain question of “when?” aside. Think: what now? What next? Then grab a pen and have at it, knowing you’ll likely achieve more than The Bucket List ever did.