Saturday, October 31, 2009

I've kept a list entitled "10 Things I Want to Do Before I Die" long before The Bucket List (a good movie starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman -- what's not to like) made such an idea popular. Recently I've made mention of the list on another blog and several people wondered where the idea came from.

I have to give credit to Sister Joanna of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. She was my religion teacher Junior year at Bishop Kearney High School. Creating the list was something she assigned us. We had to have it completed and turned in by the end of the period. The items didn't have to be school-related, in fact, she encouraged us to Think Big. "If you don't envision yourself doing it, you'll never even try," she told us. A woman ahead of her time.

Now, I was a pretty concientious student (honest! It said so on my second grade report card!), and I bent to the task, concentrating hard and thinking about all the things I wanted to do with the decades that stretched before me. One has all the time in the world when one is seventeen. The first items came quickly: write and publish a book (yes, have had that dream for many, many years), go so far out to sea I couldn't see land (I'd just finished reading Moby Dick, can you tell?); fly in an airplane; go to Europe.

The next tasks required a little more thought. Fly in a hot air balloon, go so far north I could see the sun not set. A few girls giggled as they exchanged papers, sharing their silliness. They wanted husbands and children and a house in the suburbs. Didn't need to look at their paper to know that's what they'd written.

But I wanted more. With the exception of writing and publishing a book, the others all had to do with travel. Places to go, things to see, life to experience. Would I ever actually do any of them? Who knew back then?

The minutes slipped by and still I had only six things on my list. What other things did I want to do? Fun things...not involving work. I had a sudden thought and scribbled two ideas down quickly: canoe the Erie Canal from Albany to Buffalo and to walk the Appalacian Trail from Maine to Georgia.

I sat grinning at those two for a good five minutes. I didn't even know if the entire Erie Canal still existed. So much of it had been redug and rerouted in the early 20th century that the canal even had a different name now -- the unpoetically named Barge Canal. But both these ideas appealed to the romantic in me, since I could do neither one alone. I didn't need to write down "get married" on my was a given in my mind.

But that still left two more dreams to come up with. Ten things I wanted to do before I died...smiling mischiveously I wrote down, "Go into outer space." Why not? I had to envision it before I could make it happen...well, I could see myself sitting comfortably in a Saturn V rocket being hurled upward, making a space walk with a thick tether to the command module. Yeah. Definitely going into outer space had to be on the list.

One more. Less than five minutes to the end of the period. I shrugged and let whimsy take over. None of this was serious anyway. She would read the lists, slap a grade on them and hand them back. And Sister had specified ten things, so ten there must be. Shaking my head I wrote, "ride in the engine of a steam locomotive and shovel coal."

Done. Bemused by the entire exercise, I went on about my life, throwing away the paper at the end of the year along with all the other accumulated notes, labs, and worksheets.

I didn't give it another thought until a month into summer vacation when I went to visit a friend who had a cottage on Coneseus Lake. Her sister knew someone who worked on the tourist railroad that ran between Lakeville and Livonia, NY. We wandered down to the train barn to see him and he was just taking the engine out and hooking it up for the night's run. The three of us (my girlfriend, me, and the train engineer) fell to talking and he asked us if we wanted a ride over to the station.

We didn't have anything better to do, so we said sure, thinking he meant for us to get in one of the passenger cars. But he gestured to the engine and said, "Hop on, then!" And there I was, riding in the engine of a steam locomotive, the hot boiler just a foot away, the huge beast thundering under my feet. I couldn't stop grinning.

By the time we pulled into the station, I had begun to wonder. If such an unimportant thing on my list could come true without my even trying...what about the other things on my list? Would it be possible to go so far out to sea I couldn't see land? What about actually walking the Appalacian trail? I still didn't think going into outer space was realistic, but the others...

When we got home that night I borrowed a sheet of notebook paper from my friend and rewrote my list. Looking it over, I made my decision: I WOULD do all the things on the list and what's more, every time I did one, I needed to add another. The list would always be at ten items. That way, I'd always have something to look forward to and wouldn't get bored.

I know other people prefer to cross things off and feel a great accomplishment in saying things like, "Three down, seven to go." They feel as if they're headed toward a finish line and life's a race to get things done. I'm afraid I'm not like that. For me, these are end goals in and of themselves, so when one's done, it gets crossed off. There is a great satisfaction in crossing it off, too. But another gets added because I never want to become complacent. There are always new horizons, new activities to do.

So, what have I crossed off? I've flown in an airplane and a hot air balloon. I've written and published a book (14 so far!), I've ridden in the engine of a steam locomotive and I've learned to weave on my very own loom. That last was the one I added since I'd ridden on the train. I've also gone so far north that I saw the sun not set and I've shot a shotgun (another later addition to the list).

Still to do? Walk the Appalacian Trail, canoe the Erie Canal, go so far out to see I can't see land, go into outer space and parasail from the back of a boat (another added item), go to Europe. Yes, I know. That's only six. I need to come up with four more, especially since I crossed three of this summer.

I'm open for ideas! Let 'em rip...what four things should I add to my list so I still have 10 Things To Do Before I Die?

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