What if you were dying? And like Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman in "The Bucket List," you were still well enough to get out and chase a few dreams? What would your bucket list look like?
In Rob Reiner's 2007 film, scholarly Carter (Freeman) and irascible Edward (Nicholson) climb the Great Pyramid, visit the Taj Mahal, ride motorcycles along the Great Wall of China. Well, Edward was rich. And it was a movie.
But what about a list that's close to home? Things you could do without a movie's compression of time into a neat, two-hour adventure or a one-percenter's budget? A Southern Oregon bucket list?
Speaking of which, it's a good thing it was "kick the bucket" that the idea of a list was attached to, and not "bite the dust" or "buy the farm." A dust list, or a farm list, just doesn't have that ring.
In the Norfolk dialect in the east of England, one meaning of the word bucket was a beam on which slaughtered animals were hung. Shakespeare used it that way in "Henry IV, Part Two" ("Swifter then he that gibbets on the Brewers Bucket ...").
It takes some thought, this idea of a bucket list. It's easy to say you'll hike the Pacific Crest Trail sometime, another to announce to friends that your gear is ready in the garage, and that you'll begin at 7 in the morning on June 30 where the trail enters Oregon near the Siskiyou Summit.
Goals are thought to focus attention, increase effort and even change behavior. This goes back to Aristotle, who stated that purpose can cause action. In the business world such beliefs are almost a religion. It's even an important goal for managers to set quantifiable goals for workers.
Self-help gurus like Tony Robbins talk as if visualizing something makes it magically happen. There's even an urban myth that a Harvard (or Yale, take your pick) study found that the 3 percent of those with a Master of Business Administration degree who write down their goals make 10 times as much money as the (presumably less goal-oriented) ones in the other 97 percent.
There is, in fact, no such study. But the readiness of people to believe the claim speaks volumes.
There's evidence that you can put too much energy into setting a goal. Then it can become a Big, Scary Deal. Author Ray Williams argues in a Psychology Today article that the evidence that goals often don't work is compelling. He points to recent neuroscience research that found the brain works to resist change, even to protect us from it.
"Therefore, any goals that require substantial behavioral change or thinking-pattern change will automatically be resisted. ... When fear of failure creeps into the mind of the goal setter it commences a de-motivator with a desire to return to known, comfortable behavior and thought patterns."
Whatever you think of the whole goal thing, why not go out in style? With tongue in cheek, we asked readers what they'd do if the world really were going to end with the Mayan calendar, on Dec. 21, 2012.
We found readers who said they wanted to raft the Wild and Scenic Section of the Rogue, backpack the Pacific Crest Trail, become a firefighter, get their pilot's license, not to mention the usual white-knuckle roundup: ziplining high above the treetops, skiing the bowl on Mount Ashland, riding a motorcycle at 150 mph., taking a ride on a helicopter, balloon or hang glider.
A surprising number of people confessed a hankering to make their own wine or beer. To which we say, "Prosit!"
Nobody wanted to drink Kopi Luwak, that Indonesian coffee hailed in "The Bucket List" as the best in the world (if you want to see why, Google it).
In the end, time waits for no list. Author Bronnie Ware, who worked for years with the dying and wrote the memoir "The Top Five Regrets of the Dying — A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing," says the most common regret dying people express is some version of this:
"I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me."
Whatever your dreams are, maybe it's a good idea to take a clue from a certain, Oregon-based athletic-shoe maker and just do it. Here's to your bucket list.
Bill Varble is a freelance writer living in Medford. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.