This month I celebrated my 36th birthday. If the average U.S. life expectancy is a useful measure of what to plan for — it’s currently 78 years — I am nearing the midpoint.
This has prompted reflection about what I’ve done and what I still want to do.
It’s not that I’m anticipating my death being anytime soon. However many more years I have on this Earth will be a gift, just as the first 36 have been. I want to make them count.
In that vein, I’ve occasionally found myself saying, “If I had a bucket list, _______ would be on it.” (For example, swimming in the Mediterranean, which I had a chance to do when my husband and I traveled to Italy and Switzerland for our 10th anniversary.)
I solicited opinions from friends and colleagues about the popular idea of a list of things to do before you die. Some people don’t like the phrase “bucket list,” at least in part because of the underlying idiom of “kicking the bucket.”
One person told me about her “40 before 40 list” setting goals in the months leading up to her 40th birthday. It included ideas I really liked and that reflected values she and I share as friends and colleagues.
One I added to my list was to walk a mile in 40 neighborhoods in Chicago. This will be an opportunity to see some new places and also to connect with friends and members of my congregation, allowing them to show me some of their favorite places near where they live.
Other items include:
— Learning how to make my own oat and soy milk (and using less packaging in the process).
— Planting at least one new heirloom variety every year. This year it’s a Potawatomi pole lima bean cultivated by members of the Potawatomi Nation, the indigenous inhabitants of the land where I now live.
While working on my 40 before 40 list, I came across an article on spiritual wills.
“We need to remember, direct (or redirect) and plan now in order to make the contribution we want to make to our family, our friends, our profession, our neighborhood, our country, the world,” writes Sister Mary Petrosky in an excerpt from her book The Journey Never Ends published by U.S. Catholic magazine.
She suggests a spiritual will emphasizes not only what we want to be remembered for: “We are choosing what we want to experience more of, or more deeply.” This is also a recounting of experiences that have shaped us and the values we hold most dear.
I decided to make my 40 before 40 list both oriented toward the future and reflective about the life I’ve lived so far. Half of it has become a sort of spiritual will, both of past activities and ones continuing in the present that most represent who I am.
For example, I listed serving as a chaplain alongside people at three hospitals on the South and West Sides of Chicago from 2011 to the present. These encounters, and the wisdom gained, are what I want to build upon in the next four years and beyond.
Woven through all the items on the list is my desire to live simply. It remains a work in progress to continue letting go of striving for possessions, status and success. Seeking to do that allows time and energy to go toward richness in relationships and life experiences.
Celeste Kennel-Shank, a former MWR assistant editor, is an editor and community gardener in Chicago.