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?”