Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The curse of the bucket list

Who cares what someone else decides are the hundred things to do before you turn forty or fifty, or die?

I haven’t seen Petra or the Pyramids, but I’ve been to a Lebanese wedding in Beirut and dined in a mountain villa in Nabatieh. It’s a warm memory that returns unexpectedly now and then to brighten a dull day. I haven’t seen the Hagia Sophia but I’ve picked lavender growing wild in an orchard in Izmir. It was a sensory effusion that Crabtree & Evelyn can only dream of. I haven’t seen New York but I’ve seen a little snow in California. The feeling of standing at the foot of a hill covered with snow made me feel like a child seeing the world for the first time.

I haven’t seen Angkor Wat, but I’ve walked barefoot in a temple where a hundred oil lamps glowed in the walls and caparisoned elephants swayed to the beat of fifty temple drums. I’ve even fed one of them (elephant, not drummer). I’ve never seen the Taj Mahal, but I’ve seen Humayun’s tomb.

I’ve meditated in an ashram, done yoga on a mountain top, stayed in a Tibetan monastery. None of them is all it’s cracked up to be.

I’ve been in the tunnels of Vietnam. I’ve touched the Pacific, the Atlantic, the Antarctic Ocean, the Aegean Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, the Gulf of Thailand, the South China Sea, the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean.

I haven’t seen a purple Tahitian sunset but I’ve seen the sun rise over a field full of Zebras in Cape Town. The wonder wasn’t lessened because I was on my way to a conference.

I haven’t seen the Seine or the Danube, but I’ve floated in a wooden houseboat filled with the laughter of close family down the backwaters of Kumarakkom, taken water taxis in Bangkok, abras in Dubai and a fishing boat in the Mekong Delta. I have snorkelled in Mauritius, sailed with dolphins in Oman, slept in the desert, climbed a small mountain, had kahwa in an Arabian souk.

I haven’t seen the Cirque du Soleil but I have seen in concert Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Alicia Keys, Burston Marsella, Robbie Williams, Bryan Adams, Vanessa Paradis, Deep Purple, Sepultura, The Darkness, UB40, Fifty Cent, James Blunt, Kylie Minogue, The Cranberries. I haven’t seen Cats but I’ve seen Wicked. I enjoyed it with a fullness of satisfaction that is hard to describe.

I lived long enough in both Dubai and Singapore to not sum it up in one glib sentence.

It’s not that I don’t want to go to the places I haven’t been (I very much do), but I don’t see why the things I’ve done must be rendered null and void by the things I haven’t.

If there’s someone out there who only had two things on their list for their whole life: 1. Stay alive. 2. Cure cancer, it wouldn’t exactly be a wasted life, would it? No, and nor would you have wasted your life if your list said: 1. Go out for lunch every Sunday 2. Get promoted 3. Buy house with garden 4. Buy car 5. Buy big TV, 6. Watch children graduate 7. Play with grandchildren 8. Celebrate silver wedding anniversary with current spouse, followed by 92 other points that make up your own definition of a good life.

People who compile bucket lists don’t change the world, discover gravity, cure polio or invent the light bulb – throughout history this has generally been done by people who don’t go on holiday, don’t want to try new food and wouldn’t go near a spa even if you gave them a voucher.

Why must we accept new reasons to feel inadequate and insecure just because someone’s offering them?

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