April 8, 2019

A better bucket list.

I was just expressing annoyance at the term "bucket list," in the context of the sort of bucket list with travel destinations (in a story of an American woman who went to Uganda). But I'm seeing the term again here:
About a year ago, [Lenny] Zwieg, a father of three, wore a T-shirt to a Brewers game that said “Share Your Spare” and posted a photo to a Facebook page chronicling his long search for a kidney donor. It went viral and happened to be the first thing on Nowak’s feed soon after she created a bucket list that included the entry, “Help out a stranger.”...

“At the point we made the shirts, there wasn’t a lot of hope,” Zwieg said. “This just shows that social media can do good things for people.”

“I told Lenny the first time we talked that he reminded me so much of my dad,” Nowak said. “I just thought to myself, ‘What would I do if my dad were in this situation?’”
I found out about that story last night, when we had the TV on mute when Zwieg and Nowak appeared, and I wondered enough to go back and listen. At the link you can see the charming video of the 2 of them throwing out the first pitch. They just looked like really nice, smiling people, so I wanted to know who they were. And, wow, what a great story.

I've really hated the term "bucket list" for a long time, mostly because "kick the bucket" is such a crude way to refer to the profound occasion, dying. (By the way, no one really knows what the "bucket" image is supposed to be, though there are some theories, collected here.)

But maybe what's bothered me more about "bucket list" is what people put on these lists, which I imagine to be a mundane collection of things like bungee jumping and visiting the Eiffel Tower. Show me a better bucket list. "Help out a stranger" is good but abstract. What makes it great is the high level of the specific way Nowak did what she put on her list. And that exposes another problem with the concept of a bucket list. It seems to be a list of items that you do and then cross off the list. But you don't imagine Nowak taking a been-there-done-that attitude toward help out a stranger.

63 comments:

CJinPA said...

#1 on my buck list is to "be a millionaire and give $10,000 to a stranger in need."

Unknown said...


Just completed my bucket list item of seeing all 39 plays written by Shake-Speare!!!

EDH said...

At this point I'm working on a "fuck it" list.

Stuff I'm resigning myself not to do before I croak.

Dave Begley said...

#1 Watch Creighton win the men's basketball championship.

#2 Visit the White House with President Trump and other conservative bloggers.

tim maguire said...

I don't have a formal bucket list and I don't use the term, but I can see the attraction. We all have things we'd like to do before we die and that flippant label keeps the focus on the activity without mucking it up with the death part.

MadisonMan said...

Rather than creating a bucket list, why not make a list of things about you that you want to change, and do those things instead. Change your life for the better.

The first step to a change is just one step in a long road though. Keep that in mind.

Ann Althouse said...

I like doing the same things over and over:

1. Blog every day.

2. Enjoy being alive.

3. Be with my husband.

4. Walk around in Madison.

5. Read something beautifully written.

6. Sleep.

When I try to think of things I haven't done that I want to do, I'm pretty resistant because they're going to tend to displace the things I like to keep re-doing.

Hey Skipper said...

Having been particularly fortunate in life, my bucket list is completely empty.

And I'm on the verge of retirement.

Now what?

Hey Skipper said...

P.S.: very interesting observations about the whole bucket list concept.

traditionalguy said...

Our silly entitlement bucket is full of what Madison Avenue has spent 70 years tempting us with. Get rid of the silly bucket and love your neighbor as yourself . But who is my neighbor?? Read Jesus's Good Samaritan Parable. Neighbors with needs pop up regularly.

William said...

If everyone reading this sent me as little as $50 each, then they're lives would be enriched by helping a total stranger. Such random acts of kindness bring new particles of enlightenment to the universe. You not only improve yourself, but you make the cosmos a better place.

SDaly said...

Is the yearning for experience any better than the yearning for material things?

Is there something more admirable about wanting to see the Eiffel Tower before you die vs. wanting a fancy car?

madAsHell said...

when we had the TV on mute

I use the ON/OFF switch.

William said...

I've got 2/3 of your daily list covered. I walk around NYC so that's the equivalent of walking around Madison, maybe even better if you don't get hit by a cab. I've never been with your husband. That, in my estimation, is carrying random acts of kindness to a stranger entirely too far.

mockturtle said...

Beatrix Kiddo had a pretty good bucket list. And she crossed off every one.

Big Mike said...

As far as “bucket list” is concerned, if you don’t like the term pick another. Call it funderberque if that makes you feel better. If you did any programming you’d know that labels are just strings of letters and digits, and one should not attach semantic baggage to them.

As for me, I do not want to be lying on my death bed and thinking that I have never seen the aurora borealis, and now I never will. I have a couple last items on my list, my “funderberque,” if you will, and the aurora borealis is one of them. Lucky for me, looking at gorillas in Uganda isn’t.

MadisonMan said...

@BigMike, on a recent trip back from Alaska, I slept through a great aurora (I've never seen it). Apparently, all I needed to do was open the blind (I Had a window seat!) and look. Oh well. Sleep is important!

Fernandistein said...

"I hope that when I die, people say about me, 'Boy, that guy sure owed me a lot of money.'"

buwaya said...

Publish a novel
Write a history
Have grandchildren (May come long before the others)

Megthered said...

My bucket list involves getting out of my comfort zone and doing things that I have never done. I have been able to cross off quite a few things and it has made me more adventurous and free. Most people never want to leave their nice, cozy cocoon.

Harold said...

Making a list and checking things off seems like a very American thing to do. It seems to be part of our culture to turn everything into work or a competition. I've never had nor do I think I ever will have a bucket list. I've done a lot of stuff that people seem to put on their list just by living my life and taking advantage of opportunities to do things as they come along.

AllenS said...

My bucket list is to be able to vote for Trump as POTUS 4 more times.

rcocean said...

1. Live forever.

No need for anything else.

Michael K said...


Blogger buwaya said...
Publish a novel
Write a history
Have grandchildren (May come long before the others)


Two out of three is enough, I think. I thought about a novel but I doubt I could write good dialogue.

rcocean said...

Seriously, I don't have a bucket list. Bucket lists are for young people. I've done everything i want to do, seen everything I've want to see, and I'm perfectly satisfied to just keep doing what I'm doing now.

I have no desire to parachute, bungee jump, swim with sharks, pet a lion, hang glide, or doing anything needlessly dangerous - just because its dangerous.

Skeptical Voter said...

I have a friend who lives in Alaska. I see him maybe once every other year when he comes to a contest in the lower 48. In semi rural Alaska people have to help each other out and my friend volunteers for everything. He clears roads, drives school and medical buses etc.

I occasionally do things for him--loan him stuff when I see him at contests, ship the odd thing to Alaska that's tough to get there etc. While I volunteer in the community down here, I'm really small potatoes compared to what he does.

He recently sent me an e-mail asking how he could possibly repay me for "all the things" I've done for him. I told him just keep on doing what's he's doing in his small community in Alaska. I did not need or want any thanks other than that--because he is doing what decent people do. You help others because that's part of the "grease" that makes communities run smooth.

I think that his (and my) attitude was something that was more common in American society in the 25 years or so after WW II. We were a nation of joiners and volunteers. Not so much now--but some of it is still there.

Tom B said...

You don't have a true "bucket list" unless you've arranged for someone to murder you as soon as you check off the last box. Anything short of this is mere posturing.

rcocean said...

I'd thought of renting a sailboat and going to Hawaii, but someone told me sailing a boat over the ocean is like driving a car very slowly -at 5 MPH - across the Desert. It gets boring fast.

Birches said...

I just read this article by Virginia Postrel on donating a kidney to an acquaintance on Friday. Maybe we're all meant to share our spare.

Ann Althouse said...

"Publish a novel..."

This is clearly one of the things I was talking about when I said — after "Blog every day" — "When I try to think of things I haven't done that I want to do, I'm pretty resistant because they're going to tend to displace the things I like to keep re-doing."

Ann Althouse said...

"Maybe we're all meant to share our spare."

Have you ever heard of a call going out for a kidney that is needed by someone who had in the past donated a kidney? Does that person get priority in the allocation process?

Carol said...

I have no desire to parachute, bungee jump, swim with sharks, pet a lion, hang glide, or doing anything needlessly dangerous - just because its dangerous.

I don't know about anyone else but I'd feel kinda stupid if one of my bucket list items resulted in my death and dismemberment. You know, in those last moments.

MayBee said...

I don't want to die, so I don't have a list of things to do before I do it.

I was recently with my sister as she was dying. She never once expressed regret she didn't do something, go somewhere, or see something. She just would have wanted more time with us, the people she loved.

Virgil Hilts said...

That Emily seems like quite a catch. And no ring? My wife and I have a reverse bucket list, which includes stuff like never going to Disneyland, never participating in any surprise birthday party, and never eating at Cheesecake Factory. It's more satisfying because at the end of each day we can say we achieved everything on the list once again.

Ken B said...

I help strangers all the time. Here is an example of me giving strangers good advice: Don’t drive on Alcorn Road in Mississippi.

bagoh20 said...

I only have one item on my bucket list: "Wake up and have nothing to do." I guess I don't even need a bucket for that, so that's a start.

Michael K said...

I'd thought of renting a sailboat and going to Hawaii, but someone told me sailing a boat over the ocean is like driving a car very slowly -at 5 MPH - across the Desert. It gets boring fast.

No, it isn't dull or boring.

bagoh20 said...

I try to help street beggars everyday by not giving them any money, but other people are determined to keep them beggars and keep them right where they are. I empty my bucket, and they fill it right back up.

walter said...

The best bucket list

cf said...

1.a Love, admire and am grateful that you are so devoted to your daily list, Althouse.

1.b I'm a sucker for daily lists, will always click on Maria Popova tweets when she is exploring the daily imperatives of fine minds.

2. There's a classic list-making exercise -- given by the good bossmen at my first job to motivate staff, but that caused me to leave that funnest fancy job within 3 months and go off to do/be anything else, haha, and for the best.
It is a nice prompt every 20 years or so, to see the ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
what do you want to accomplish in the next 3 years?
What do I want to accomplish in the next 10 years?
What do I want to accomplish before I die?

Danno said...

Blogger CJinPA said...#1 on my buck list is to "be a millionaire and give $10,000 to a stranger in need."

Having a million dollars today (assume not in real estate, but in cash and investments) is not really all that much money after inflation has reduced its value, but it can produce an income from dividends and bond interest that allows one to have a substantial supplement to their retirement income. If you go around acting like a big-shot and give $10,000 to strangers in need, you will be dead broke (like Hillary) real soon. Only you don't have a foundation and a speaking circuit to replenish it.

Danno said...

As to my bucket list, I really don't have one and I hate to be part of the competitive urge where you try to out-do everyone else. I'll settle for more domestic travel and riding my bike at least 150 times a year, which means winters not in Minnesota. But then I'm stuck up here during road construction season.

SDaly said...

On vacation down the shore one year, I saw a big pink bucket with a yellow handle in a store window one morning while walking to get donuts to bring back to the family. The store was on the way to the beach, and I knew we'd be passing it later that morning. To amuse my girls, when I got home, I secretly wrote out a "bucket list" with the first entry being "big pink bucket with a yellow handle", then various other types of buckets below it.

When we passed the store later that morning, I gasped, pointed at the bucket and said "That's at the top of my bucket list," brought out the list to show them, and then bought it for them.

AllenS said...

You can't just wish to never die. Because, after a certain age, you wouldn't be able to move. How would you like to lay in bed all day and not know what's going on around you?

Earnest Prole said...

"kick the bucket" is such a crude way to refer to the profound occasion, dying

Henry James called death "the distinguished thing."

Yancey Ward said...

Bucket lists are racist.

Fernandistein said...

Speaking of butt-kit lists :

Buttigieg to Pence: 'If you got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me -- your quarrel, sir, is with my creator'

His fancy shiny imaginary creator also created murderers and child rapists.

Mr. Forward said...

If you carry two equally weighted buckets you don’t need to list.

BleachBit-and-Hammers said...

Buckets. time. shots. Wabbits.

Here it is.

Anthony said...

Kicking the bucket.

roesch/voltaire said...

The knowledge that we could kick the bucket at anytime should make us aware that each day and event is important whether its walking the dogs in the morning, or going on a safari in the afternoon.

walter said...

Pails in comparison (and Firkins)

SDaly said...

roesch/v

Why does potential death make every day or event important? I don't see any causal connection there.

It would be easier to claim that it makes each day or event unimportant. Brushing your teeth an hour before death seems like a waste of scant time and singularly unimportant.

rcocean said...

Dr. K thanks for posting that!

rcocean said...

"How would you like to lay in bed all day and not know what's going on around you?"

Justice Ginsberg doesn't seem to mind.

tcrosse said...

Not bucket. Bouquet.

Fen said...

Show me a better bucket list.

Mine is a list of people that need to be put down.

What is the judge going to do? I'll be dead before the trial ends.

Howard said...

Jimmy Durante fills his bucket list

DannyG said...

Long before the term "Bucket List" became popular I developed a general idea of things, besides work, that I'd like to do in life. Some, like visiting every state in the USA I'm very near to achieving. Likewise, I've learned to fly like my father and brother before me. I've walked the streets of the town my maternal grandparents hailed from in Ireland and lit a candle in the church they no doubt prayed in before taking those one way tickets to America. Hope to do the same with the paternal grandparents' town in Poland. Seen the midnight sun, seen the Aurora. Some other things which fit with my professional ethics and ethos: Blood donor, signed up to be a organ donor and marrow donor (and, by G_d's good graces, gave marrow to a 4 yrs old who got another 13 years of life). Still have a few places I feel called to visit: The HOLY Lands, maybe Rome, Aus/NZ, and perhaps Japan. Having a list, even if it's just a loose mental one, can give one focus and serve as an encouragement to go and or do, even when it seems impracticable at the moment. If nothing else, it will make you ask yourself, and answer, "What do I value in Life?"

Kelly said...

Along the same lines as a bucket list, my cousin decided to do 50 fun things before she turned 50. It was a long year of going to concerts and winery’s and girls trips all chronicled excruciatingly on Facebook. My cousin is generally a good person, but it was pretty annoying.

John Scott said...

I keep on trying to get my wife to share in my bucket list, but she keeps on saying, "Not tonight Honey"

Be said...

The notion of kicking a bucket or a step to hang a person is a pretty elemental one, much like "casser la pipe" (break the pipe) is in French. The latter comes from a clay pipe being inserted into the mouth of someone in a body cast, I think, as an indicator of their still breathing.

Never heard of the term "bucket list" before that insufferable Jack Nicholson / Morgan Freeman movie.

Ann's 9:10 am comment reminds me of a conversation around Existentialism during a seminar back when I was a kid. The professor asked what people would do if they earned that they only had x number of weeks / months to live. Everyone else was all about skydiving, visiting India, Starting a Foundation to End All War, etc. My answer was to continue getting up, going to class, taking the walk to work, going to my Weight Watchers meeting after, heading to the practice rooms to continue painfully getting that Chopin etude into my fingers, returning home to have dinner, reading until bedtime.

Not a Fulbright winner, not very aggressive. Always considered an underachiever. Grew up in Chaos, so was just so happy to have a comfortable routine.

roesch/voltaire said...

I am not alone in the awareness of the nearness of death causes one to be very aware of the present moment , to enjoy it more fully,