In 2007 Rob Reiner produced a movie called The Bucket List. It was the story of two terminally ill seniors (Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman) who wanted to fulfill a list of things they always wanted to do before they die or… kick the bucket. I am not sure if Reiner coined the term ‘the bucket list’ or merely popularized it, but it has become part of our vernacular.
The concept of a life list predates the movie by a long way. In the 1960’s when football coach Lou Holtz was 28 years old he was between jobs, and his wife was expecting their third child and he sat down and put together a list of 107 things he wanted to accomplish in his lifetime. The list became a guiding force in his life and allowed him to achieve numerous things including coaching the legendary Notre Dame Fighting Irish, being on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, meeting the pope, jumping out of an airplane, flying a jet fighter and having dinner at the White House. At 76 years old Holtz has completed 95 of the 107 things on his list and is still going. Now retired from football he is a motivational speaker that is fond of saying, “Write down everything you hope to achieve in life, then make sure you do something every day to realize one of your dreams. You are going to encounter adversity but you will also … take big, satisfying bites out of life. If you’re bored with life – you don’t get up every morning with a burning desire to do things – you don’t have enough goals. “
I have always had a bucket list of sorts. Mine mostly have to do with seeing the world. The Holyland was near the top of the list. I was less concerned with seeing it before I died, and more concerned with getting their before someone blew it up. As it was we got there just after the last war with Lebanon and the tourists were nowhere to be found. The Great Pyramids of Giza were another must do for me. We visited them for our 25th anniversary. Turns out the are much smaller than one might think, you can lift them up with one hand.
Today I need to rethink my list. Every summer since I was a kid we have taken our summer vacation on Lake of the Woods in Ontario. My passion is to run around the lake in a power boat exploring the 1000’s of islands and bays. My goal was to one day cross the 80 mile lake from the north side (where we are) to the south side where the city of Warroad, Minnesota is located. It is not just a matter of the significant distance by water, it is getting across Big Traverse Bay. This one stretch of water is 40 miles long by 40 miles wide, without any islands. When the wind comes up the waves can swell to 7 or 8 feet high making it impassable to virtually any typical lake boat. I have a friend that pastors a church in Warroad and he had invited me to come and preach at his church this summer. How good was this? Go preach the gospel, and check a major lifelong goal off the list. I barely slept last night as I ran the details of the trip over and over in my head. Extra gas, warm clothes, drinking water and of course a cell phone in case we had mechanical problems and ended up stranded in the middle of Big Traverse. As it turned out there was no cell phone reception so it was good thing we didn’t break down. I had carefully plotted the route on my GPS as Lake of the Woods is a treacherous waterway with countless rocks and reefs, and once into Big Traverse you cannot see land for quite some time.
Today was the day and Kathy and I set out at 7:00AM. We needed to set a torrid pace of a steady 40+ MPH if we were going to get there before the service started at 10:00 AM. Plus at the halfway mark, we had to go through customs at a remote US border phone booth at what is called the Northwest Angle, a carteographical mistake that has left a chunk of the USA in Canada. Apparently we have Ben Franklin to blame for the blunder. We reached the station just after 8:00 Am so things were looking good. The US customs phone booth is pretty much out in the bush and is basically on the honors system. The uncommonly cheerful customs lady answered the phone on the first ring. We gave her our names, passport numbers and boat registration numbers. She then wanted to know of course if we were carrying any citrus fruit as if to say, “You can transport all the guns and drugs you like, just don’t bring us any dang fruit.”
Cleared for entry we made our way to the opening of Big Traverse Bay. We came around the corner of the last island blocking our way to a straight shot to Warroad… this was the moment I had waited my whole life to see. As the wide expanse of water stretched out in front of us we were met with wall after wall of 3-4 foot waves. Even as we slowed our pace, the waves crashed over the bow. Less than a mile out we were forced to retreat and abandon our journey. It was over as soon as it had begun. Almost comically we now we had to re-enter Canada. I had called Canada Border Services the day before to ask about the location of their remote border crossing phone. A most unhelpful agent told me it was on the east side of Cyclone island. I informed her that it was a large island surrounded by rocks and that I needed to get the location correct. I told her that Google Earth showed that side of the island as uninhabited and that perhaps it was on the west side. She responded with… no joke… “Whatever!” Turns out I was right it was on the west side. It had a brand new $100,000 dock. The phone booth however… was out of order. The sign said, If phone is not operational call (this number) on your cell phone. Seems reasonable, except THERE IS NO CELL SERVICE HERE IN MIDDLE OF NOWHERE! Eventually we found a summer resident on another island with a phone. You see we needed to call the pastor of the church as well since he was standing on the dock in Warroad waiting to pick us up. This day was not working out well for anyone.
I will make it up to my friend and preach at his church on another day. I will however have to go by car to ensure that I do not leave him hanging, yet a second time. As for my dream of crossing the Big Traverse? I doubt I will ever have another go at it. It was too big an expense in time and money (my boat gets 3 miles per gallon). But Pastor Mark, you can’t let your dream die. Why not? In the greater scheme of things what does it matter? It was just a self-indulgent fantasy. The fact that I was on my way to preach was merely a justification. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with our bucket list dreams, but if they serve no greater purpose than bragging rights, then they really are not that important. If I swore to myself that someday I would jump out of a plane and then one day I did, how does that change anything? Did it make my world a better place? Did it even make me a better person? Well it might, if I had some irrational fear I was trying to over come… like the irrational fear of falling to one’s death at terminal velocity from 10,000 feet above the ground.
What I am saying is that we cannot live our lives for a list. We need to live for a purpose. At the end of our lives it won’t matter how many planes you jumped out of, how many bridges you jumped off, or how many Big Traverse Bays you traverse. What will matter is how you touched the lives of others; how you made your world a better place and how many people you bring with you into heaven. That is why I need to return to Warroad and preach the gospel… but it doesn’t matter if I go by boat or not. Incidentally, in the movie the Bucket List… our heroes died without fulfilling their lists.