|Man and dog resting after a run, Nashville|
I am morally opposed to bucket lists of all kinds, those bossy catalogues of experiences that every upper middle class person ought to aspire to. One hundred books, places, restaurants, whatever, that you must—must!— read, visit, eat at before you die. In order to live a full and complete life. According to someone else, to some low-wage assistant editor at a fading magazine or web site who never met you.
To me, it's as if the martinets of fashion, driven out of the business of dictating our clothing choices by general slovenliness, regrouped around lifestyle for their last ditch stand at ordering people to do something. We may not be able to ordain your skirt length, anymore, but we sure as hell can demand you go to Prague. You can't die and not see Prague.
Really? Just watch me.
The world's a big place. You could sit down and start reading books from this moment until you take your last breath, and you would still miss wonderful works of literature. You could stand up, and begin a Conradian wander across the earth and still miss fabulous places. The idea of generating lists of obligations is such a dreary eat-your-peas, fill-in-the-stamp-album notion, I'm astounded anyone has ever done it once, never mind made it a tiresome journalistic cliche.
I've been to a number of very nice cities. London, Paris, Rome, Venice, Tokyo, and such. But I'd never suggest that you must go to these places. You should. It's not a bad idea, if you are so inclined. But lots —the vast majority of people in the world—have never been to any particular place, and to suggest that their lives are somehow incomplete because of it is another form of cultural imperialism and intellectual arrogance. Paris is filled with Parisians whose lives are neither charming nor fulfilled despite their being right there. You could read half of Moby-Dick and cast it away, hating the book. There's a lot about whales.
When I look at my own life, at things I've done that I'm most happy about, most proud about, never show up on anybody's list. I've never seen "Get sober" on a bucket list, but I'm glad I did. Or "Have children," though that's an adventure that beats the hell out of bungee jumping into some gorge, not that I'll ever considering doing that.
If I had to compose a list, if you put a gun to my head and made me, I'd recommend people get a dog. Because I never had a dog, never wanted a dog—in fact, was dead set against them. I didn't even want to touch a dog. My dad was from New York City. We never had dogs. When my older boy began pressing for one, I replied. "You're not asking for a dog, you're asking me to pick up dog crap twice a day and I'm not going to do it." He was eight or nine.
But my younger son also wanted a dog, and asked for it for his bar mitzvah, and that was the loophole that brought us Kitty. I was terrified at the time—I sincerely thought the dog would ruin our lives. She didn't, and now that care for her as devolved to me, as it invariably does, I'm really glad we have her. Walking Kitty is the most normal thing I do, often the highlight of my day, and as we take in the air, morning and night and noon if I'm around, I think, "I'm really glad I got a dog. My life is so much fuller."
That said, I be reluctant to put "Get a dog" on my never-to-be-written bucket list, because all that really says is that I like having a dog. You, a completely different person, might not, due to whatever persistent personal flaw makes you immune to a dog's charms.
Of course, I didn't want a dog either.
So maybe I could take a risk and write a very short bucket list, because if you really are the sort of person who'd be unhappy with a dog, well, that's awful, and you should get a dog and endeavor to change yourself while there's still time. So, as much as I thought I'd never do it, here's Neil Steinberg's What You Must Do Before You Die list:
1. Get a dog.
At least you won't have trouble remembering it.