I believe in “The List.”
The List is a written compilation of what I want to see, do and be. It defines my dreams and aspirations, reminding me during daily life to remember a bigger picture. In my thirties, the list was vague, items coming from a comment, “put it on your list.” In my forties, thinking more about my mortality, I capitalized it. In 1992, I fulfilled one dream by spending a season as a volunteer wilderness ranger for the Forest Service, patrolling the Boundary Waters and seeing more wilderness than I ever thought possible.
After that experience, I codified The List. Some might consider odd many of the 29 current items and a couple so personal I won’t even write them down. But The List isn’t intended to be a rational document. Camping out in a nearby mountain range was on The List for 20 years before I finally did it. Some items may never get done, like finishing the remaining three-quarters of the Appalachian Trail I haven’t hiked. But they stay. Seeing the next total solar eclipse is a permanent item.
I certainly do things that I find important that aren’t on The List. I am teaching a young man how to read and tutor students in math and science. I feel I should give back to society; The List reminds me to occasionally give back to myself.
I believe that each of us has our own list of what we want to see, do or become. That piece of paper reminds me not to squander good health and good years, to remember to do a few things I’ve always wanted to do. When I practiced medicine, I saw too many put off trips, education and hobbies until retirement, only to die or become severely disabled before they ever got the chance. I’m not about to run around the globe fulfilling selfish fantasies, but I want to minimize the times I say, “I wish I had…”
Rarely, I get a double bonus. For many years, seeing a wolf in the wild was at the top of The List. One cold May evening on Isle Royale, a place I had long wanted to see, a curious wolf visited my campsite, ten trail miles from the nearest other person. For five minutes, often only 12 feet apart, the two of us checked each other out. Seeing what I had long wanted to was thrilling but came with some serious strings attached. I packed up and left camp, hiking ten miles that night.
I believe in The List as a powerful reminder of the importance of allowing ourselves to dream, to realize these dreams have value and that periodically we ought to try to make them come true.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.