The start of June is almost as good as the start of a new year. It brings out the goal setting, list making, and daydreaming in all of us. Hopes are high at the start of summer, spirits are breathing easy in the warm air and we’re all ready for a little refresh on the year that’s nearly halfway spent.
Last week, during the final days of May, I gathered my favorite pens and blank paper and made lists. Lists of books to read, of daily habits to cultivate, of plans to achieve my goals for the following 12 weeks labeled summer.
Some might call it a bucket list.
Before a certain date on the calendar is reached we’d like to have done x, y, and z. Hike a mountain, splash in the river, sit beside a pool, read five (or twenty-five) books, go star gazing, road trip to somewhere we’ve never been, plant some flowers, finish an art project, run a marathon. These are things that fill up the pieces of paper we call bucket lists.
I made some bucket lists. I have some hopes and dreams for what I’d like summer 2016 to turn out to be.
But before the first week of summer was even over my lists began to deconstruct. I had more than one serving of ice cream. I slept in later than I wanted. My runs were shorter than I had planned. I didn’t ford any streams, nor did I make it to the top of any mountains. I was less like a practically-perfect Mary Poppins nanny and more like an average babysitter. My days were filled, yes, but filled with things I hadn’t expected. My goals went unmet as the hours were interrupted by overheated cars and random evenings spent with family and I have a feeling these summer days will continue in a similar pattern.
So I think I’m going to start a different list. I’ll still call it a bucket list. But now, rather than making a list of ideal summer memories ahead of time, I’ll turn the bucket over and catch the moments as they come. My list won’t be made up of the things that need to happen to make this summer perfect, but rather the things already filling my days. Experiences, memories, unexpected gifts, plans turned upside down, days spilling over with life – even if life doesn’t look like I had envisioned.
Because as soon as I attach myself to a specific plan, as soon as I decide for things to go a particular way, as soon as have an inflexible list of the way I think best, I have locked myself to the chains of expectation. These chains bind me to entitlement and blind me to pleasure. I am rigid, uptight, and worst of all ungrateful.
Expectation means we stick a bucket over our mound of goals and dreams and demand every item on the agenda to remain in place. Nothing may exit. But if nothing exits, neither can anything enter.
No unexpected pleasure, no new idea, no unplanned adventure, no unforeseen blessing or fortuitous gift.
Expectation robs of us of the best joys in life.
But turn the bucket over, let the goals and plans be free to rise up and take other forms, give the hopes and dreams room to shift or change, and you give space for the greatest memories to happen. With an open bucket you can gather the treasures, like a child on the beach accumulating sea shells. One by one, let them drop in and add joy – joy that you never could have planned.
I’ll still make the list. I’ll write down the moments that make up summer. But I think I’ll jot them down after – not before – they occur. I suppose it’ll be more of a gratitude list than a bucket list. And by the time summer comes to a close I will have a bucket filled to the brim.