Nearly two years ago I turned 40 … which makes me what society calls a middle aged woman.
During the year or two before this new decade of life, I was ofcourse confident that – on most days – I was not in fact “middle aged”. I scoffed at the ridiculous idea. Surely I was barely out of my 20s. But the year I turned 40 I somehow comfortably settled into the over used descriptive and have never looked back. I embraced it and have found that it fits me well. But that’s a conversation for another time.
I approached 40 at a time when there was a lot of talk about a concept called “bucket lists”. It was the buzz phrase of the year really. There was a successful movie released on the premise, talk shows dedicated to the subject, and water cooler talk was all a flitter with the “new” yet simple idea. That idea being this: put pen to paper and write down all the things you wanted to accomplish during the last half of your life. Then, ofcourse, go do them. Experts and underlings touted how making a bucket list would enhance ‘your time left on this earth’, give your life purpose, and encourage you to focus on the goals in your life.
To be honest I really liked the idea. I am very much a goal-orientated person. I tend to know what I want out of life in a very concrete way and go after it in a purposeful manner. Sure I’m not always successful, but creating goals for myself is something I’ve been doing for as long as I can remember. It’s a part of me. It’s like saying I have hazel eyes. My over organizing drives people crazy sometimes, but you see, I believe a great life doesn’t just happen. You go out and grab what you want from it. And for me, in order to know what I want, I need to think about a goal.
So when I turned 40 it seemed very natural for me to partake in this new ‘bucket list ritual’. A list of all the things I wanted to accomplish before I died. Yes … sure … the whole “before I die” part seemed a little depressing, but the concept in and of itself was very “me”. This was a logical next step on a bigger and broader level.
But as my birthday approached I realized something. There was no part of me – not a single little desire – that wanted to look at all the things I HAD YET to accomplish. Instead I felt this: a visceral need to put in writing all of the things that I had ALREADY accomplished. All of the things that I had been, had tried, had experienced, and had survived in my FIRST 40 years on this earth.
I wanted to celebrate the woman I had been and had become. I wanted to shout from the rooftops “look at all the amazing things that have made me this middle aged female living in this crazy world!! Look at all I have to celebrate!! Look at my life! It’s been so wonderful and hard and rewarding and fulfilling!! I’m still vertical and breathing and alive!! And I’m only 40!!”
(You’ll find I do a lot of shouting from rooftops … it’s kind of my thing … sigh …)
So. I gathered up my female friends and we went out to a winery to celebrate my last night of being in my 30s. I was surrounded by so many incredible women. There were 15 of us in total. It was one of the very best nights of my life. One I will never forget. As I sat there surrounded by them I shared my thoughts of having not created this seeming “right of passage” they were calling a bucket list. But told them instead of the list I had in my pocket of so many things I was proud to have ALREADY accomplished. I gave them each pieces of inconsequential pretty paper and a gel pen to take home to make their own list if they wanted. They smiled and nodded. If you could see cartoon air bubbles over their heads I’m sure they would have said “She’s soooo touchy-feely”. But the greatest thing is that those air bubbles would also have said “But we love her so much anyway!” I really do have the greatest friends and family! I don’t know if any of them ever went home and made their own list. Life is so busy and it’s not everyone’s thing. But I’m glad I did it anyway.
I never did share my list with them that night. The evening felt “too focused on me” already. But I’m going to share it here now … just as it was written two years ago. (Not an easy thing to do for this Private Extrovert by the way). Some things are seemingly pretty big … having explored Venice and the Isle of Capri or traveling through the clouds to work every day. Others are seemingly small … having experienced true deep friendship and falling head over heels in love. But the more I wrote the more it seemed the smaller things were in fact pretty damn big, and I was so proud and thankful to have experienced them.
Let me be clear. This wasn’t a list about the future. And wasn’t about the present. We talk a lot about the little things in life we are thankful for. But this list wasn’t even that. It was about more than whispering my gratitude. It was about taking stock. It was about celebrating and recognizing a life I had worked hard for up to that point. It was about things I was not just thankful for but also proud of. It was about acknowledging all of that at one moment in time. Some of those things I worked consciously for. Some I had fought hard for. Some were given to me. But regardless, by making this list it made me appreciate and recognize all of them.
Since those two years I have been able to put many more things on that list which perhaps I will share at the turn of another decade. Things I am proud of. Things I have failed at but have at least I have tried. But all of which have a made me who I am today for better or for worse.
This is not my bucket list.
This … is instead … my “basket” list.
Forty PLUS Things I Have Done BEFORE I was 40
Swam with dolphins. Took a gondola ride in Venice. Ate at the Plaka in Greece. Looked over Florence during sunset. Fell in love. Been interviewed for television, radio, websites and newsprint. Ziplined over a canyon. Spent summers working in Banff. Guided my son and daughter through childhood cancer. Rode the Cheetah Hunt Rollercoaster along with dozens of other thrill rides. Saw Cirque de Soliel. Had true friends. Hit on strangers in bars. Was hit on by strangers in bars. Took photos. Took more photos. Saw Oprah in person & went to a taping. Saw Michelle Obama in person. Played on the floor and in the dirt and on the court and in the pool and in the woods with my kiddos. Been to a U2 concert. Found my Dianna. Climbed a mountain in the Rockies. Made love at 7486 feet above sea level. Held a tarantula. Swam with and held Sting rays in the Ocean. Shopped at Harrods in London. Got chosen for the Wedding Game. Went on a Cruise. Said I Love You and meant it. Said I’m Sorry and meant it. Saw a rainbow above the clouds. Had a snowball fight in August. Put thought and effort into celebrating my Moms life at 65. Swam in four different oceans. Wrote an article that was published in the paper. Had the perfect wedding weekend. Married a man who loves me. Had an imperfect marriage. Worked hard at that imperfect marriage of which I am so proud. Learned every word to Barretts Privateers, Sonnys Dream and Home for a Rest. Appreciated music. Read, appreciated and made notes in good books. Took the perfect photograph. Won a photo contest on television. Went to my high school reunion. Pursued and purchased my dream of country living with a view. Was a good friend. Was a good Mom. Went Whitewater Rafting. Stayed at the Banff Springs Hotel. Stayed at a Dude Ranch. Whispered thank you countless times. Went whale watching. Owned and loved a horse. Slept in a mall. Slept in an Aquarium beside the Dolphin tank. Shot a rifle, shot gun and hand gun. Had my heart broken. Broke a heart. Went to the Calgary Stampede. Made out on the beach in the moon light. Enjoyed live theatre. Laughed until I cried. Cried until I laughed. Fed a giraffe. Watched a movie under the stars. Went to a Drive In. Forgave others. Forgave myself. Got “the” job for me. Let go of old friends. Held on to old friends. Had numerous and varied work experiences. Dated much older men. Dated somewhat younger men. Drank at Senor frogs in Mexico. Had family I could count on. Drove across Canada. Treasured my children at every age. Worked hard for a degree. Lived in four different Provinces. Wished on a shooting star. Swam under a waterfall. Climbed a waterfall. Kept a daily gratitude journal. “Made” moments happen for my family. “Recognized” moments when they happened “to” my family. Surrounded myself with photos of those I love. Surrounded myself with words and voices that gave me strength. Seized small things. Celebrated my Nannys birthday and Mothers day every year without fail. Volunteered and gave back to my community. Sent old fashioned mail. Remembered birthdays. Worked hard to make friends and family feel cared for. Told my children I loved them no matter what every night. Made mistakes. Made more mistakes. Chopped down a tree. Drove a stickshift. Owned a sports car. Recognized and appreciated my life … regardless of the circumstances.