After reading Rebecca Byerly’s piece in the New York Times, one cannot help but think of themself.
Isabella de la Houssaye and her daughter, Bella, struggled to breathe in the thin air of the high Andes as they trudged up a zigzag trail to the top of Aconcagua, the highest summit outside the Himalayas.
At an elevation of about 22,840 feet, it is often called “the roof of the Americas.” At this height, breathing is difficult and the risk of debilitating, even fatal, altitude sickness is a reality even for the strongest climbers.
Isabella has Stage 4 lung cancer, which makes breathing especially hard.
Houssaye made plans to go on adventures — maybe the final ones — with each of her children, ages 16 to 25. Climbing to “the roof of the Americas” with her daughter Bella was one of them.
I have to admit, Ms. Houssaye is both pretty damn strong and admirable. After my diagnosis, no such thoughts ever came to me. While it’s true I have no children; climbing mountains was never a personal forte. It’s not that I don’t have ‘desire,’ but I presume the term ‘desire‘ would be different for each person.
Several weeks prior, I Googled ‘things to do after a terminal diagnosis.’ Google retrieved an accouterment of suggested links, but each mostly centered upon either financial or ‘bucket list.’
Financially speaking, I both a will, and living will. Car paid? Check. Home paid? Check. Will updated? Check. Bucket list created? Check. Check. Check. And so on.
Moving to the bucket list, I compared mine to those found online. The first thought online writers conveyed was accountability. Meaning that If you made a bucket list goal public, theoretically others would hold you accountable. Should such accountability exist, one is much more likely to accomplish said goal(s).
Many writers start with travel. Visit Asia. Hmm, did that. Africa? Check. Australia? Check. Europe? Check. South America? Check. All 50 states in America? Check? Yosemite National Park? Check. North Pole (that’s North Pole, Alaska)? Check.
There are specific items such as Heli-Ski in Valdez, Alaska. Nope, no interest. Sell a House for a Profit? Check, been there, did that. Attend Coachella Music Festival? No interest. Experience Burning Man? No interest. Be an extra in a Hollywood movie? No interest. Whitewater rafting at Cherry Creek, California? No interest. Bench press 200 lbs? Been there, did that. Have coffee with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company? Did that (but had to listen to how wonderful he was in comparison to everyone else). Fly in a Fighter Jet? Did that. Parachuted? Yup. Spend a day shooting video with Peter McKinnon?
Who the heck is Peter McKinnon? … Sorry, I digressed.
So, did I learn anything of value? My one point of note came from Michael Riley’s 2017 column, 7 Life Lessons from the Movie “The Bucket List.”
“Imagine you were told you had 6–12 months left to live,” he wrote. “Talk about terrifying. What would you do with your time left?”
Riley’s list included three that gave pause for thought.
- Death often comes out of nowhere.
- Find the joy in your life.
- Bring joy to other people’s lives.
In the movie “The Bucket List,” Carter tells Edward that when death occurs, the gods ask the person two questions: First, “Have you found joy in your life?” Second, “Has your life brought joy to others?” My experience with those dying suggest most neither remember the joy found in living nor the amount of joy brought to others.
Life isn’t meant to be all about me. Yes, my dreams and goals matter, but it’s really about my impact and legacy. How many people’s lives can I touch while I’m here? Likewise, how many people’s lives can you touch while you’re here? How can you be a role model for others?
Maybe therein lay the best to-do list for everyone. One To-do: What can I do with the remaining portion of my life that will bring joy to others?