In an upcoming movie, Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman play two characters with vastly different social backgrounds who find themselves both diagnosed with cancer. They decide to forego the less than promising medical treatment and, instead, live their last days to the fullest hoping to go out with a blast. The movie is titled the "Bucket List," a choice of words that suggests that we make a list of things to do (and/or see) before we inevitably "kick the bucket." Despite its ultimately dire prospects, the message of the movie is supposedly positive and even funny.
The idea of get-it-before-it's-too-late, of course, is by no means new. There's already a best-selling book series (with a follow-up TV reality show) out there that urges us to see at least 1000 places around the globe before death will stop us in our tracks.
The obvious purpose of these messages is to promote a rapidly growing market that is opening up with the retiring Baby Boomers in mind, the generation that has dominated America demographically for the last 40-plus years. "Active retirement" is the new fad. Although that sounds like an oxymoron, it's supposedly the next place to be. And for good reasons. Due to increasing longevity and overall higher quality of life of today's older generation, it is only logical that traditional retirement is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. There's talk about a "second spring," or even a "second adolescence" that mature adults revisit when their grown kids leave the nest.
Being (technically speaking) a senior myself, I'm all for having fun at any age, especially my own. There are many things I can do only now that I'm free from the duties of a mother, a homemaker and a career woman. I must admit that I've been longing at times for this stage in life where I can put my own needs first.
On the other hand, simply having the time and the means to do whatever comes to mind may not be enough. And herein lies a difficulty that often occurs with retirement: What comes next? The notion of living out one's "golden years" can eventually become a long wait, if not a drag. Meaning is not something we receive from things we can buy or from places we can visit. Meaning is something that we give - to a place, to other people, to ourselves.
One of the great fears many people develop with age is that they may have missed out on something really important in their lives. I've always been a restless person myself. Searching for the next big thing is very much in keeping with my character. And yet, I am keenly aware that I won't find on the outside what I don't have already in me. I do appreciate the world and see its beauty, I love adventure and excitement, I like to indulge in luxury and enjoy comfort. These are all good and worthy pursuits.
But none of this will matter if it does nothing for me as a person - no matter how far I get through my list of goals. Life is not a list, and the proverbial "bucket" may get in our way before we're done checking off the last item.
It has been said that Baby Boomers are more educated, skilled and worldly than any other generation before them. So, we should be able to come up with a great "retirement plan." At the center of our attention should be how to live our lives to the fullest every day - from the inside out. These are good skills to have, especially when we're forced to acknowledge that the gift of time is limited.
Timi Gustafson is the author of The Healthy Diner, How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun. Her book is available in bookstores and through her website at www.thehealthydiner.com.You may reach her for comments at firstname.lastname@example.org>/i>