Bucket lists, last lectures and two questions
by Margaret Dabbs
Dec 01, 2010 | 2330 views | 0 0 comments | 31 31 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The family Thanks-giving dinner celebration gracefully wound down as family members began exiting for home and a long weekend of football, shopping and preparation for the continuation of the holiday season into December. The Gadsden contingent was still on their way home. The Tuscaloosa group — including the 1-year-old great-grandson who stole the show as well as everyone’s hearts earlier with his precious smile and abundant toddler energy — had checked in to say they arrived home safely. Easy conversation flowed among the family who would stay the night as all the dish washing was finished, tables and chairs were put away, and the turkey carcass simmered on the stove, cooking down for soup as it maintained the aroma of the holiday all over the house.

As all the after-meal chores were finished, one by one we gravitated to the den and began searching the multitude of channels for a movie that suited everybody. We picked up in the middle of “The American President,” a safe choice for the three represented generations, ranging in age from 21 to 86. When it ended, no one really wanted to move, having comfortably settled in to sit until bedtime. The next movie was chosen because the grandparents had not seen it and with actors Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson you cannot go wrong.

The Bucket List

“The Bucket List” is the story of two men from widely divergent backgrounds, Edward Cole (Nicholson) and Carter Chambers (Freeman). Edward is a selfish, self-indulgent billionaire who buys public hospitals and privatizes them as he operates them on a shoestring, “two beds to a room, no exceptions.” Carter is a hard-working mechanic who gave up his dream to be a history professor in order to support his rapidly growing family while maintaining an unending intellectual curiosity and essentially educating himself by reading. His has a close-knit family with three well-educated successful children, a wife of 40-plus years, and grandchildren. Edward jokes about his multiple divorces and reluctantly discloses that he has no relationship with his only daughter, by her choice, and has not seen her in years.

These two men meet while they are roommates in one of Edward’s hospitals. Ranting and raving because he must have a roommate, by the requirements of his own highly promoted policy, Edward is initially rude and arrogant to Carter and his family visitors. Over time, as these men share the reality that their cancer will soon end their lives, they talk, play cards, and discuss death in depth.

Carter inadvertently introduces Edward to the idea of making a Bucket List of all the things he wants to do before he dies. When the two men are released from the hospital while in remission, Edward convinces Carter to leave his family behind and join him in a worldwide, whirlwind realization of Carter’s Bucket List which initially includes simple items such as “witness something majestic,” “laugh until I cry,” and “help a complete stranger for the better.” However, with Edward’s money and connections, this basic list turns into a grand one for both men as they skydive, ride motorcycles along the Great Wall of China, race vintage cars, visit the Taj Mahal, and climb the Great Pyramids.

While Carter and Edward are sitting on top of one of the pyramids, as often happened on their trip during the course of their extensive, thought-provoking conversations, Carter shares a tidbit of his extensive knowledge and explains the ancient Egyptians’ belief about how a person’s soul is admitted to heaven.

The gods at the entrance asked two questions and the answers determined whether the soul was admitted or not. The questions were “Have you found joy in your life?” and “Has your life brought joy to others?” These two questions quietly become the foundation of the thinking process that continues throughout the movie.

Carter, always the student and eager to learn and explore, while experiencing the world in a way he never dreamed, ultimately realizes that returning to his wife and family are more important than continuing their trip and asks to go home. He understands that this experience has made him see and value what is truly important in his life and that he has found his joy right at home in his family.

Carter’s family celebrates his homecoming but unfortunately, his cancer has recurred and he dies within a day or two during surgery. He offers Edward one essential suggestion for his own Bucket List through a letter he writes before he dies. He encourages Edward to “Find the joy in your life.” With these words and through the example of Carter’s unselfish, well-lived, family oriented life, Edward finds his daughter, reunites with her, and is introduced to his granddaughter.

If you “Google” the words “Bucket List,” in 0.11 seconds you can have almost 5 million results. Blogs tell you what to put on your list and are set up for us to share our lists with others. Books describe these lists in hundreds of pages.

Websites are devoted to the subject. You discover broad and narrow categories of lists including “Walking\Running \Jogging Bucket List,” a list of “10,000 things to do before you die,” and “50 Essential Experiences: The Travel Bucket List.” Celebrities share their lists- Julie Andrews wants to read every book sitting next to her bed and Bill Clinton hopes to live to know his own grandchild. Hundreds of people are willing and eager to guide us through the Bucket List creation process at the touch of a few buttons.

The Last Lecture

A brilliant young computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University found out he had terminal liver cancer and only months to live. The university had sponsored a “Last Lecture Series” for years where professors were asked to consider their own deaths and talk about what is most important to them. When Randy Pausch was asked to give this lecture, he was not just considering his own death, he was looking at it straight on.

Randy’s lecture, delivered with phenomenal energy, ease, and enthusiasm about 10 months before his death, was actually his own version of a Bucket List of how to live your life. His ultimate objective was for his lecture to be a message to his own children, ages 6, 3, and 18 months. The lecture, seen and heard all over the world courtesy of the Internet, grew into a book, “The Last Lecture.” Slightly more than 200 pages, a “treasure chest of life’s lessons learned,” it is read by many at one sitting and is packed with Randy’s suggestions for living life well.

Randy’s lessons cover an array of topics and often include words shared with him by others. Viewing the World: “Never lose your childlike wonder. It’s just too important. It’s what drives us.” Viewing other people: “…In the end people will show you their good side. Almost everybody has a good side. Just keep waiting. It will come out.” Gratitude: “Go out and do for others what someone did for you.” Attitude toward life in general from author A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh characters: “Each of us must decide. Am I a fun-loving Tigger or am I a sad-sack Eeyore? Pick a camp.”

In both the written and spoken word Randy’s listeners and readers see an unselfish man who realized his own dreams and then spent most of his life helping others realize theirs through tireless devotion to his teaching, his students, and his family. As Carter urged Edward in The Bucket List, Randy Pausch found his joy in his life and by reaching that goal, lived a life that brought joy to others.

Through laughter and tears a movie based on fictional characters gives us the opportunity to stop and think about what should be the highest priorities in our own lives. An abundance of sources available via technology hope to plant the seeds to make the perfect to-do Bucket List. A lecture and a book by a real man who must quickly share his thoughts and ideas on living a good life touch our lives and may even change them.

In our own sort-through processes, perhaps the Egyptians’ two questions are the best place to start. As we find the joy in our lives and work to bring joy to the lives of others, our first steps toward these goals were surely taken right within the family gatherings last week and more will be taken in the gatherings that occur during the remaining weeks of the year.

Margaret Dabbs is a freelance columnist who resides in Jasper. Her column appears every other Wednesday in the Lifestyles section. Comments and suggestions are welcomed by contacting Dabbs at 387-2890.