Bucket List Twist

Lately I’ve seen more and more bloggers posting their Bucket List, that optimistic tally of all the things to do and stuff to see before they buy the proverbial farm. It’s a charming idea and a valuable exercise that I think everyone should definitely contemplate. But lately, given my own situation, I can’t help thinking there’s a much more important one to be making, a list whose importance vastly outweighs the Bucket version and has the potential to pay much higher existential dividends, i.e. make us happier. And so far, my list isn’t long enough.


I’ve probably visited Sacré Cœur in person around twenty times by now. And I’ve certainly seen its image everywhere; not just in photos and film but as T-shirts, pewter jewelry, oven mitts, pencil sharpeners, and anything else they can sell to normally sensible people whose judgment is temporarily hindered by the magic that is Montmartre. The church is one of the true symbols of Paris, having been seen from every vantage point and contemplated from all angles. But the best view I’ve ever had of it was far removed from an idealized postcard or sexy magazine spread. Mine was seen through dirt and dust, through scratches and streaks of rain. It was obstructed by wires, bland apartment complexes, and graffiti-draped industrial buildings. It lasted ten seconds at best, and it wasn’t even worth snapping a photo. But it was the best damn view of Sacré Cœur I’ve ever seen.

That first day of entering Paris as a local resident was an exciting one. The same trip I had made as a tourist from the outskirts into the city center was now so much more–now this was my commute, this was my gateway into one of the most beautiful places on Earth. And holy cow, I could now make this trip whenever I wanted. How lucky could a person get?

I happened to be sitting on the right-hand side against a large dingy window as the train pulled me and my new neighbors toward the tunnel into town. To my surprise and delight, just before plunging into darkness the distant basilica started peeking intermittently between foreground structures, climbing further and further into the sky with its regal stark-white exterior popping against a gray sky. It was la cerise sur le gâteau as the French would say–the cherry on the cake–and a perfect exclamation point to finish my first ride into Paris as a Parisian.

But that was many months ago. It was many crummy days of work ago. It was many depressing moments of being-an-outsider-who-can’t-speak-the-language ago. Over time I stopped remembering to sit on that side of the train. I stopped looking up just before the tunnel to see the church. Like we all do, I started floating mindlessly through my commute on autopilot, somehow convinced that instead of appreciating a view of the world-famous Sacré Cœur it was more important to silently rehearse an uncomfortable conversation with my boss that was never even going happen. Rather than meditating on the good fortune around me I chose to ponder the money I didn’t have, the hurdles of getting a visa renewed, or a conversation where I mistakenly called someone tu instead of vous. The magic of that first day had slipped away, crumpled up under my seat like a copy of yesterday’s newspaper. This bothers me.

So instead of a Bucket List of all the amazing and wonderful stuff I want to experience before I die, I prefer a list of the amazing and wonderful stuff I already have and don’t appreciate enough. I prefer to push back indifference and remain an excited and hopeful newcomer for as long as I can, not just as a Parisian but as a human being. I prefer to NOT agree with my French inlaws when they say this country mansion is rather boring compared to the others:


I want to give the extraordinary events in my life the thanks they deserve. I want those hypothetical moments on my death bed to be filled with the creativity of falling back in love with the familiar, not the regret of unchecked items on some “what-ifs” roster. The truth is we all have views of Sacré Cœur everywhere around us; we’re all surrounded by wonderful people, places and personal accomplishments that would remind us of how special and wondrous our lives are if we could just turn off the autopilot once in a while.

There are things sitting right now on someone else’s Bucket List that you’ve had in your lap for ages–you’ve just forgotten to sit on the right-hand side of your train, next to the dingy window, thinking to yourself “How lucky could a person get?”


  • When you are a mother, you make your way bringing up your children anyway you can, doing the best you can, yet always playing back those stories in your mind…did I mess things up too badly, did I do a good enough job, will they end up ok and happy in spite of my fumbles, will they grow up to be good people, maybe even great ones?
    But then, one day, there they are, standing tall and proud in front of you…All grown up. They’ve taken their falls, stood back up, worked hard to accomplish their goals and dreams, assesed their strengths and weaknesses and taken responsibility for who they are and where they are going. And then one day, if you are as fortunate as I, they write a story about it and fill a mother’s heart with a smile as grand and sacred as Sacre Coeur.

  • I couldn’t agree with you more! I don’t have a bucket list. I guess it’s because ever since they got popular to have, I realized I would only have one thing on my list, to live in France. Sure there are places I would like to go and maybe I will, maybe I won’t but I will have no regrets in the end if I’m not able to make it to every where I would like to. I already got to check off the one place I wanted to be! I do have days where my house, l’admin francaise and work really get to me and I even sometimes forget that I’m here! I hate those days. I like it when I wake up and I say to myself, gosh, I live in the south of France and even though I have a 2 hour round trip commute to work each day, I love the drive and I never get tired of it because the whole way is through the countryside with vineyards and little villages. It never gets old! My bucket lists in all complete:)

    • Thanks Ashley. I haven’t been to Provence yet but I think I have an idea of what your commute must look like, and you’re one lucky lady! Kudos for staying appreciative of it even during a long back and forth drive. That’s great that you’ve already fulfilled your dream of living in France; I’m sure that’s sitting on a LOT of people’s bucket lists. We expats are extremely fortunate despite all the difficulties, and I guess I wrote this post as a way to remind myself of that.

  • I agree so completely. Some bucket lists become all too impossible to fill which also sets you up for disappointment. I know the whole gratitude thing has become very fashionable as well. But, I would rather reflect and be grateful for all the wonderful experiences people in my life than create a list which by its very nature begins to cause stress because it is not being checked off. I too, even though I am not in France, wake up each day with gratitude.

  • Great post! So true. We definitely should appreciate what we have more. But I also agree it can be really hard to do when you’re in the grind and have to ocer come a lot of obstacles in living abroad, even though ti’s probably something on a lot of people’s bucket lists.

    • Thanks Laura. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely freak out over the tough day-to-day grind as well! People have no idea what it actually means to relocate like this, and there are plenty of hardships no one ever prepares you for. But at the end of the day there’s so much to enjoy and experience and be thankful for, that if we’re not appreciating the joke’s on us! Thanks for reading and best of luck with your own hurdles over there in Lille!

    • Actually Sarah I think the original germ for my post came from reading your blog. I had been thinking about the Sacré Coeur thing and realized it was closely connected with this trend of making lists for the future instead of for right now. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • I am a new resident of central Arizona and I live close to Sedona. Every time I drive into Sedona I count my blessings for being in one of the most beautiful places on the globe. How lucky to live here and not be just a tourist! I subscribe to your blog because I fell in love with Paris during a short 3-day visit that I won listening to a Chicago radio station. I loved this post. And, it goes along with a class for senior citizens that I am currently taking at Yavapai College: “The Science of Happiness.” You, dear sir, are in that zone already.

    • Thanks Paula. What a nice thing to win, 3 days in Paris! My first visit here was just 5 days and it was a rapid-fire sprint to see as much as I could, and it felt almost like I’d dreamed it all once I got back home. But I definitely knew I needed to go back. I’m glad my blog can help you stay connected to the city. Thanks for reading and take care!

  • “The truth is we all have views of Sacré Cœur everywhere around us; we’re all surrounded by wonderful people, places and personal accomplishments that would remind us of how special and wondrous our lives are if we could just turn off the autopilot once in a while.”

    Touché, Monsieur Frye. Thank you for a beautifully written reminder to appreciate what I have, and to make the most of the here and now.

  • Sacre Coeur is definitely one of the places that speaks to us. One of my favorite photos is the Eiffel Tower from just outside of Sacre Coeur. And I still believe that it was rubbing St. Peter’s foot that lowered the pressure in my eyes – don’t even try to convince me it didn’t. It is magic and wonder and beauty and the climb up accentuates the climb we make in life to reach the best we can be. You are lucky indeed and I am touched that you realize it.

  • Oh, Corey – thanks for the perspective! I have my 36 before 36 list and I sincerely filled it with things I knew I could accomplish if only I’d get off my lazy duff. There’s nothing more depressing that unrealistic expectations but only finding out too late how unrealistic they were. A Bucket List would change too often my attention span doesn’t go that far out – and, quite honestly, the only major thing I hope to accomplish is a short-term goal: I’m gonna grow some purple carrots. PURPLE CARROTS! I can’t wait – it’ll be fun.

    Also, your mother is awfully adorable.

    • Thanks Dena. Yes, my mom is one of a kind for sure. Purple carrots sound delightful, can’t wait to see them on your blog one day!

  • Sacré Cœur is by far my favorite spot in Paris. It’s beautiful and I love the view of the city from above. I can’t wait to go back there. Thanks for sharing! :)

    • Yeah it’s such an iconic Paris monument, and one of my fav’s as well. Interestingly it’s not even a century old yet,making it a baby compared to all the other famous buildings here! But as I mentioned in the post, it has become sort of my symbol for remembering to appreciate the chance to live here.

      Thanks so much for your comment!

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