Dying, it seems to me, is a ruddy expensive business. I don’t mean the cost of funerals, though I am sure the same is true of them too. But bucket lists, those lists of absolute ‘must do’s and ‘must see’s, being essentially the world’s best bits compressed into a shopping list, come with an impossible price-tag. And since I have turned my back on the high-earning, black-suited career-path, I am left wondering whether I will be cursed with FOMO (that’s the ‘fear of missing out’, mum) for the rest of my days. Will my life really be cavernously empty because I didn’t see the Grand Canyon or scuba dive in the Maldives? (And is it me or did tour-guide operators author all bucket-lists?) Will I rock up to St Peter, hand him a verbalised account of my life and cringe as he sighs in boredom- saved from judgement but not condescension?
Of course, the knee-jerk Christian response would probably be that, given the fact that we have the promise of everlasting life in Heaven, we need not put all our eggs in the basket of this world as pictured by a travel-agent. This is utterly and joyously true. And when other masters and temptations come aknocking, fixing our eyes on Heaven is a great strength and reassurance. But, you don’t need to look very far at all to see that the goodness of God’s creation is not confined to certain hotspots. In every flowerbed, in every sky, nesting in every tree, there is an awe-inspiring amount of variety. It would take me weeks to count all the species in my garden. It would take me even longer to know how they feel, smell and taste different from each other. And isn’t this what we would expect from our God? He’s hardly the type to confine access to beauty to the upper tax-band; He wants to reveal His hand behind everything to everyone. I think it’s only our limited definition of beauty, the restrictiveness of accepting unquestioningly what our culture takes to be the ‘ultimate’ experience, and our tendency to see the world through a camera lens rather than using all of our senses to glory in creation, which stops us seeing His creative hand wherever we look.
Bucket-lists are all about ‘once in a lifetime’s- their uniqueness being determined largely by their expense. But on one level, no experience is ever completely replicable. So if we pay more attention to the uniqueness of each, if we live in the moment not in a YOLO sense but to fully appreciate God’s creation and opportunities to serve him in each day, then we might feel less trapped within a timetable. And I think we can take for granted the glory of regularity- we might disparage it as routine, but isn’t another word for it reliable? There doesn’t seem to be an intrinsic reason why we should not rejoice that the sun rises every day, that each morning there is birdsong, and that (in Britain at least), our seasons (usually…) follow a curvaceous rhythm each year. We would miss them, be utterly lost in fact, if they were irregular or disappeared completely. So there seems more reason to praise God for his constant provision, rather than lament the sameness of it all.
And finally, bucket-lists are too new to be worth being intimidated by. In the past in Britain, and for the vast majority of the world’s population (including millions in Britain today, I ought to add), living has been difficult enough without having to worry about whether you got round to the ‘you haven’t lived until’ tickboxes. It’s a sign of enormous economic privilege to be able to describe ‘life’ so narrowly. But, I certainly don’t think that it has been only since the bucket-list era that people have been experiencing the greatest levels of joy. For one, I think when you know a Kodak moment is coming, there is a degree of self-consciousness, of ‘Did I do it right? Did I see it all? Did I take enough pictures?’, that can make it feel a bit contrived. And, when I look at old black-and-white photographs, whether taken of working-class or upper-class families, I see smiles just as steeply rising as I do when I look at Facebook. I trust that God has been sending the spirit of joy on His world whether they have had Hawaiian sand between their toes or not. He’s a far bigger, more creative God than that. And for Him, the only ‘you haven’t lived until’ comes in the form of knowing His son.