A couple of days ago a younger neighbor, whom I encountered in my daily afternoon walk, asked me, “What’s in your ‘bucket list’?”
I replied that I had no such list.
He was amazed (he is not yet 40). “But there’s so much to do, and only so much time remaining! Because you like making model planes so much you ought to shoot for the thrill of flying your own plane, or do a little traveling in the time you have left.” I shook my head. “You don’t understand; I am happy already doing what I love doing: reading, studying, writing, and keeping my wife’s garden flourishing.”
He looked at me as if I were a rather odd duck, indeed. As a much younger man than I, I am certain he has a long list of what he wants to accomplish before that feared day of our winking out.
“Time” is very different for me now than it was when I was younger. While I usually really enjoyed my day to day life — I have been an exceptionally lucky person to have had a succession of interesting and worth-while occupations — it is true that I usually had goals that inevitably lay in the future, even if that future was little more than a vague “sometime.” Since my retirement, however, I have learned the richness of living in the now, perhaps because the “time” I have left is much shorter than it once was.
Part of this is undoubtedly the consequence of aging — the past, even truly ancient times — no longer seem as remote as they once did. Part of this is also because I read widely and, since I was a young man and first traveled throughout western Europe in the summer of 1967, also because I am aware of, and fascinated with, other rich cultures and the varying perspectives they have on “life” and “wisdom.” Too, since my retirement, I have intentionally studied both Confucius and the Buddha (together with my continuing love and admiration for the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth), and there is in them a calm wisdom of acceptance and fitting in to “the wholeness of life” that I find very meaningful.
Some view the Chinese people as “non-believers,” and I find this interesting, especially as I live in a culture which is so ostensibly “religious,” especially “Christian.” As an Irish Catholic American I certainly experienced, in my youthful years, the rich unity of belief that can exist among peoples of various faiths.
But as I matured I also came to understand, and became increasingly uncomfortable with, how much of this “belief” was actually tied to formulaic doctrines and not to a lived commitment of how one ought to behave towards their fellow men and women. The latter is what Jesus taught, but so many who claim to be his followers clearly follow paths of anger, self-righteousness, and harsh judgement. Yet, they assert that they are “believers” and stake their certitude about “God’s existence.”
We are a strange species, indeed! Just yesterday afternoon, I reclined in a porch sofa outside (we have had a string of unusually warm weather for this time of year in Portland lately) and just looked, listened, and enjoyed: the colors, the sounds, the scents on the drifting breeze ... ah! I drank deeply.
It reminded me of some lovely days when I was young when I would lie on my back on the soft green grass of my parents’ lawn, secure in my place in my family (and in the universe), and just lazily watched the clouds drift by overhead, marveling at their shifting shapes and occasionally imagining them to assume more familiar forms.
It is good to be rooted in this good earth, to know that we share the privilege of existence with a multitude of other creatures, and to humbly ponder the fact that we, like they, have only a limited time to be here. As to what is “next,” if there is any such thing, I have no anxiety and, perhaps strangely — since I am closer to that “next” phase than I used to be — I have almost no curiosity about it.
Que sera, sera: what will be, will be.