Before I die . . .

(February 18, 2016)

When the waitress brought our food, I tried to find a way to ask, “How am I supposed to eat this?”

I had to think fast.

I came up with, “How am I supposed to eat this?”

She explained with kindness and condescension, “You can eat it however you want, but I suggest you pour this over the rice. Dip the bread in this sauce. This is the dessert so don’t pour anything on it.”

Carol and I were having dinner in Decatur, Georgia, with August, whom we met in Santiago, Chile. I first suggested Farm Burger, but that choice did not seem adventurous to Carol, so we tried to be more interesting and went for Indian street food. This was a move in the right direction for August, but it takes a lot to register on his interesting meter. August has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and run with the bulls of Pamplona.

He speaks three languages. He has been to bull-riding camp and rafted on the Amazon. He bungee-jumped in Brazil and skydived in Norway. When people make bucket lists, their lists would look like August’s Christmas letter if he had a Christmas letter—which he does not because he is too interesting for that.

When you have dinner with August, the temptation is to think your life is dull. I am not sure what countries Kilimanjaro (Rwanda?) and Pamplona (Spain?) are in. My Spanish makes people who speak Spanish roll their eyes. I do not want to ride a bull or a raft. I have an overwhelming desire to stay in the plane.

Our list is not as impressive as August’s, but Carol and I have done a few things that show up on bucket lists. We have been to Paris, Amsterdam, and London. We took a train to Oxford to sit in C.S. Lewis’s pew. We lived in South America where we hiked the Andes (with August) and had a cup of coffee with the Archbishop of Canterbury. We sang along with Jimmy Buffett and Bruce Springsteen, and we stood silently at Elvis’ grave. We rode one rollercoaster together. We ate lunch in the booth where JFK proposed to Jackie, and we kept President Carter waiting while Carol talked to her mother on the phone.

Bucket lists took an artistic turn in 2011 when Candy Chang painted the side of an abandoned house in her New Orleans neighborhood. She had lost someone she loved and was dealing with depression when she used chalkboard paint and stenciled a grid with the sentence, “Before I die I want to ________.” Anybody walking by could pick up a piece of chalk and share a dream.

By the next day, the wall was full of responses. Before I die I want to . . . Sing for millions. Plant a tree. Play the piano. Sail around the world. Swim without holding my nose. See my daughter graduate. Abandon all insecurities. Be a teacher. Eat more of everything.

Over one thousand “Before I Die” walls have been created in more than thirty-five languages and in more than seventy countries. I stood in front of the wall in Asheville, North Carolina, and thought about the people whose goal before they die is to . . . Swim in a pool of golden retriever puppies. Go to India. Do a cartwheel. Make it in hip hop. Go to a World Series game at Wrigley Field. Straddle the international dateline. Trace their roots back to Italy. Fall in love. Proudly wear a bikini. Win an Oscar. Own a llama farm.

Some are heartbreaking. Before I die I want to . . . Hold her one more time. Find a cure for my daughter’s disease. Make my dad proud again.

But most of us could do better. Being a great salsa dancer is a fine goal, but we should aim higher. Before I die I want to . . . Tell good stories. Work for justice. Be the exception to a lousy rule. Give to feed starving children. Care for my family. Care for someone else’s family. Forgive the one person I was not planning to forgive. Love someone enough to weep when they weep. Become more like Christ. Help a church become more like Christ. Show someone who has almost given up how to hope again.

Share our dreams.

This post was originally published in Funny When You Think About It: Serious Reflections on Faith by Brett Younger.

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