There are places I want to go, things I want to do, before I die. Not that I plan on dying anytime soon; that’s not on the agenda. But it’ll happen someday, I suspect. And before it does, I would like to visit Russia. And Asia. Africa, too. I would like to see the pyramids. I would like to hike the Appalachian trail and all 46 Adirondack High Peaks. I want to study French, brush up on my German, go back-country skiing at Tuckerman’s Ravine with my brother Danny, take a swing at ballroom dancing, clean up my string crossings on the violin and learn to play jazz so well that it oozes out my pores. I want to take a class in auto mechanics.
I’d like to re-read all the Faulkner I read in college, just to see if I admire it as much and understand it more. I need to consume Joseph Conrad to correct the failings of my youth; my late father loved him, and I’ve long regretted never sitting with him at the kitchen table and discussing his favorite books. Too late for that, now. And too late to learn Neapolitan, Daddy’s first language, because it’s one of those tongues you learn as a kid or not at all — and I didn’t.
But that’s okay. And the other stuff I never got around to and never will: that’s okay, too. A lot of my dreams, like memorizing chromatic scales or learning to fix my brakes, are perfectly doable. Why, I could do them now. I probably should do them now. But it’s likely I’ll get around to doing them eventually, assuming I don’t dip my toe into the wrong Albany intersection and croak next week. But the rest of it, the things I might not do and places I might not visit — that’s all right. I don’t care, because I’ll wind up doing other things instead. It’s not as though, excuse me, either I accomplish all these prearranged tasks or my life is a pathetic waste; life will unfold, events will occur, locations will be visited, in a manner neither defined nor predicted by me. And thank God for that. I’m terrible at planning things. I’m much better at winging it.
And by winging it, I open myself to unpremeditated miracles: the person I didn’t plan on meeting, the place I didn’t plan on going, the experience I didn’t plan on having. This fruitful spontaneity is the single greatest joy in being alive, because it allows for the intrusion of a divine and cosmic happenstance; we can set our goals and cover our bases and hatch our schemes and work like hell to realize them, but in the end, it’s the shit we can’t predict that blows our minds. Have you ever been pregnant? You, or someone you’re married to? Then you know what it’s like to have a baby. You spend nine months readying for a tiny, threshing, drooling stranger, and then, boom: the most beautiful and singular person in the world propels from the dark and arrives in your arms, and you’ve known that child for 10,000 years. Could you have predicted that? Could you have scribbled it on a bucket list?
So no bucket lists for me, folks. If I can, I’ll visit Russia. If I can’t, I’ll live until I drop. And then it won’t matter anyway.