“We tiptoe through life hoping to safely make it to death.” — Unknown
I was sitting on an examination table in my doctor’s office, wearing a gigantic shapeless “gown”, a paper blanket across my lap, when I read the line above. I think it would have struck me in another setting, but given where I was it seemed imbued with special significance.
When my doctor entered the room, she asked what I was reading. I showed her the book’s cover and read the line to her. She said, “So, what’s on your bucket list that you haven’t done yet?”
I drew a blank.
She waited for an answer, but when one wasn’t forthcoming, she said, “Well, it’s probably a good idea to get clear on the things you still want to do so you can get busy doing them.”
Its not that there aren’t things on my bucket list (though I don’t have or want a formal one). But most of them are really big things I don’t ever say out loud. Most of them are things I don’t even know how to articulate, much less begin. Many of them are things I can’t do and tiptoe safely at the same time.
In her book, Traveling with Pomegranates, Sue Monk Kidd talks about entering her fifties and, suddenly, fearing death in a way that was new. At the same time, she was overcome with a desire to write fiction – which she had never done. These fears and desires warred within her – and as I reread the book this year, her story resonated deeply within me. The fact that she went on to publish a stunning first novel, The Secret Life of Bees, should fill me with hope.
Instead, I keep getting stuck at the notion that death hovers on a horizon that feels exponentially closer than it did a few years ago. I vacillate between acting as if I can hide from it and wanting to explode into next week shouting, “Let’s see what you’ve got!” Usually, I very quickly fall back into the life-long pattern of tiptoeing.
“We tiptoe through life hoping to safely make it to death.” What an absurd thought, an absurd way of being in this life. No matter how we live, life ends at the same point for each of us – death. Why do we allow this one future event keep us from living as fully as we can before it arrives?
As I’ve sat with this line, looking at my own tiptoeing ways, I’ve realized a couple of things. First, I’m going to stop warning my loved ones to “Be safe” every time they take off on a trip or an adventure. I’m going to tell them to “Have fun!” “Enjoy” “Go big!” instead. They don’t need my encouragement to play it safe – most of us take that to the extreme. But we could all stand a little encouragement to go for it (whatever it is). For the children and young people in my life, I want to model that playing it safe is not the paramount value in life. They’ll hear plenty of messages about avoiding risks, mine doesn’t need to be one of them.
Second, I’m going try to hold and nurture possibilities for myself as if they are newborn children – feeding them, encouraging them, forgoing sleep if need be. I’ll keep reading books that exhort me to dream big and take steps to make those dreams happen. And the next time someone asks me what’s on my bucket list I’m going to give them an answer. Because I know what I want – and it’s about time I stopped tiptoeing around.