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Why Mortality is A Gift: living life one bucket list item at a time

Updated on October 19, 2012

Everyone dies, obviously. But I'd never really thought about mortality as an opportunity before.

"Hey, look at this," my sister called from the bestsellers shelf. "What Do You Want to Do Before You Die?" she read the title out loud. I grabbed another copy and flipped through it. She and I had stopped at the quaint country bookstore on our way to a quarry to swim. The idea behind the book was intriguing: four college boys decided to write a mutual bucket list, ranging from their most simple to most outrageous wishes, and they were traveling around the country crossing them off one by one. The items ranged from "make one hundred compliments in one day" and "run a lemonade stand," to "walk the red carpet" and "walk up to the most beautiful girl you've ever seen and kiss her."

"I think I'd like this book," I told my sister. "I enjoy enjoying life. I think it's fun to have fun." I flipped the book over to check the price. "Oh it's totally worth nineteen ninety-five! ...do you think I could get it cheaper on Amazon?"

"Maybe, but if you get it now you can read it in between swimming while we sunbathe," said my sister, providing me with the final convincing that I needed. I slapped the book down on the checkout counter, a smile on my face. The elderly man behind the counter looked taken aback. Then he caught a glimpse of the cover and gave me a knowing nod, as if to say, "Yes, indeed, you have every right to be proud of your literary taste."

I'm always excited when I find a book I know I will love. A good book, in my opinion, is a book that helps me to see the world differently. Almost any book can be considered pretty good, but a really great book is one that will stick with you forever, a book that actually expands the way you view the world around you. When I know I've found another such book, it's worth any cost. (With that said, you almost always can get it cheaper on Amazon).

At the quarry, a small, peaceful reservoir surrounded by straight-walled rocky cliffs, I cracked open my new book and felt inspired. I personally believe that we as humans can tend to settle for mediocrity in our daily existence. It's possible to make so much more out of our time here. Work is important and even crucial in more ways than one, but if all we ever do is go to work and then come home and watch TV and go to sleep to wake up in the morning and do it all over again, we might have missed a point somewhere along the way.

I put the book down to jump off a cliff.

Halfway down during my first leap off the forty-foot ledge, I thought to myself, "I'm still falling." Then I thought, "I actually have time to think about how I'm still falling." Then I stopped thinking and screamed. I hit the water-- fell through it into silence and weightlessness-- and said to myself, "I'm doing that again, right now."

On the car ride home, while my sister drove, I finished reading.

"Is it a good book?" she asked as I sealed the pages

I rolled down the window. The warm wind felt my face like the curious fingers of the blind."It makes me feel like sticking my head out of the window like a dog and singing the national anthem and hugging somebody."

"So...is that good or bad?"

I just laughed. My hair came loose and danced into my eyes. I stuck a fist out the window, pointed at the sky, a gesture reminiscent of Lady Liberty. "Ohhh say can you see..." My sister joined in with a harmony and it didn't matter that we forgot half the words. We meant every word we remembered.

When we got home, I started adding to a feeble bucket list I'd began in my early teen years:

Go to Machu Picchu

Take a cross-country trip

Get married

Have kids

Own a Clydesdale and sleigh

Fly a helicopter

Own a summer home in Ocean Grove

Snowboard in the Alps

Be an extra in a movie

Go to a lumberjack competition

Drive a lap around Top Gear's track

Some were a little far-fetched, even ridiculous, but two of them ("take a cross-country trip" and "snowboard in the Alps") were crossed off within the year. I began jotting down more items, such as "invent something," and "learn to play the trumpet." But my main objective, the one most driving goal of my human life, is still to write and publish a book. I have already written several hundreds of pages of stories and edited them to death, but I know that none of them is "The" book-- the one that means something to me, means something to other people, and helps them to see the world in a different and more beautiful way. That is still my goal.

Someday I will cross it off my bucket list, along with many of the other things. As Ferris Bueller told us: "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." The mere fact that death is inevitable can actually be a blessing rather than a curse. If we knew we would live forever, there would be no motivation or rush to do anything interesting. We could watch movies nonstop for fifty years and it wouldn't matter. In this life, it would. In this life, anything not worth doing is a waste: a trade of the promise of adventure and experience for something that has no lasting value.

So what stops us from doing the things we want to do most? From getting out and living an extreme life? Is it the fear of failure? Maybe it feels like diving off of a forty-foot cliff into water. But for me, I can't decide which is better: the peace and relief in the water at the end, or the excitement, the terror, and the thrill of falling through open air.

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