Live for today because tomorrow isn’t promised…

I spent Saturday morning at a thought-provoking and moving memorial/celebration of life for a colleague’s wife who died far too young (less than 3 years older than me). These types of things inevitably make you think about your own life and this was no different. There were anecdotes and messages shared in this service that resonated about my own life and I hope they will stick with me

First, a slight aside – at the service, I ran into several people who I hadn’t seen in several years (some I do see on Facebook, at least).  I commented to one that it always seems to be funerals/memorials that reconnect people. The same was true for my family – it was at a memorial service a few years ago (it must have been about 4 years, since it was just before my divorce) that the family gathered and I saw extended relatives who I hadn’t seen since I was much younger. Why is it we only seem to gather in our times of grief? I admit, I am terrible about maintaining contact with people on a regular basis. I get busy – we all do. And I tend to be an introvert, so social situations have a tendency to drain me. But there is something to be said for maintaining contact. I said to one person that maybe it is time for us to gather a group of us for lunch. I am resolving to put that into action, even if just that one lunch.

A second aside – another message I took away from the service had to do with how we treat our fellow humans. Speakers at the service spoke of community, of getting involved, of finding mentees. As a natural introvert, these things are very difficult for me. But I do try to do what I can to help others.

But I digress…

I have lost too many friends and colleagues over the last few years, most before their time. I discussed their impact a little in a prior post, and this service  (for the person whose death I learned of while high on a mountain) reiterated the messages I had taken from those prior deaths.  I realized that I need to remember to live in the present, to appreciate the life I’m living and to not focus too much on a future that is never guaranteed.

That’s not to say I have given up considering my future. I have spent the last 18+ years ensuring my future was secure, very often at the expense of the present. I have worked for a salary that is significantly below market because, from a long-term perspective, it provides a pension and, in the short-term, it provides other benefits that are above-market. But I have never been able to have anything close to the lifestyle I envisioned when I went to an expensive, highly-ranked private law school. I certainly didn’t expect to still be paying off my student loans (which I still will be doing for years to come).

Over the last few years, I have started to make a greater effort to stop putting things off until “someday” because that “someday” is never promised. The future plans I have worked so hard for whether my pension or my plans to do certain things when I retire – can all evaporate in a moment.

The truth is, I will have absolutely no regrets if something happens to me and my student loans are never fully repaid. But I would regret if I never saw the Northern Lights or Michelangelo’s David or the Roman Colosseum or the canals of Venice.  I have a long bucket list, especially where travel is concerned.

I am no longer waiting for someday. Someday is today.

Bucket lists (travel)

Eight days ago, I returned from a trip to Iceland where I checked some boxes off my travel bucket list. Chief among those was a chance to see the northern lights / aurora borealis (they were oddly underwhelming in person – they looked more like thin, barely visible clouds than the bright green you see in photos – until I looked at my photos and realized I got some good ones).

The other day, I was thinking about bucket lists and, for a short moment, I thought I had put a serious dent in my bucket list over the last three years – Yellowstone, Rome, Venice, Pompeii, Florence, Iceland, the aurora… Why the sudden burst of travel? After my divorce, and after a few friends died too young, I realized I needed to do a little more to enjoy life today and to do things for myself.

I have been at my current job for over 17 years and have been working at a below-market salary (for many years it was quite significantly below market) for all those years. I have been doing that, in part, with an eye toward my future in the form of a fairly generous (particularly by today’s standards) pension and also toward the present in the form of above-market benefits. Among those benefits is very robust vacation accrual, which I rarely took in my first 10 years.

My future was accounted for, but what was I doing in the present? In 2010, I started taking advantage of my vacation time, with a 2-1/2 week trip to Japan, a place that feels like a second home to me. My next trip was 2011, to see the Kings open the season in Berlin and then to travel around France with a friend. And it was around that time that I met my now-ex, who lives in Stockholm (yes, Sweden).  For the next 3 years, my vacation time was spent almost exclusively visiting my ex or spending time with my ex here in LA. But that was okay, because I was planning a life with this person – a life that would eventually be based in Europe where, I thought, I’d be close enough to many of the places I hoped to see someday. Plus, my ex and I had some of the same places on our bucket lists and had planned to visit them some day, as well. I figured I had plenty of time to whittle down my list. But then my marriage ended and, with it, so did those plans for the future.

About a year and half later, an opportunity presented itself in the form of a conference in Rome. I had the chance to both check Rome (and a few other cities) off my bucket list and to learn something. So I took it. And I realized around that time that I could make my own opportunities. And when some friends passed away suddenly, I realized life was short. I had been working hard to ensure my future, but I needed to start considering the present. So I started checking places and travel experiences off my bucket list.

But was I really just down to just two more, one of which I anticipate knocking out next year, after just a few years of travel? As I started talking about travel I realized there were so many other places and experiences still on that list.

Among the remaining bucket list items:

  • Cambodia and the Angkor temples
  • The Galapagos Islands
  • The ancient ruins in Greece
  • Israel (with a detour to Petra, Jordan)
  • A safari in Africa
  • The Scottish Highlands
  • Stonehenge (yes, I know it’s underwhelming), Bath and other sites in England
  • Castles throughout Europe
  • The rain forests in Costa Rica
  • Snow monkeys in Japan and the Sapporo Snow Festival
  • The pyramids and Sphinx in Egypt
  • Iguazu Falls
  • Auschwitz (not so much a bucket list item as something I feel I need to see in my lifetime)
  • The national parks and national monuments in Utah

I am sure there are others and new ones will replace the ones I check off. But it looks like I have some busy years of travel still ahead…