What if the answer to “when” is never?


This thoughtful essay by Howard Englander of “Cheating Death” renown reminds me of a discussion the Five Wise Guys had during our first season. When someone began talking about his “Bucket List”, Matt Tannenbaum famed bookseller, said: “We all know about the Bucket List, but there’s also a “Fuck-it List,” the things we on longer need or want to do. What’s on your to-do or not-to-do agendas? — Sam

What if the Answer to “When” Is Never?
By Howard Englander

I’m not sure about the term, “Bucket List.” It puts the emphasis on traveling to exotic locations before you kick the bucket…doing the things you have talked about endlessly but never got out of your rut to actually do.

For sure there are places I want to visit before I put away the Rick Steves’ Best of Europe in 21 Days guidebook, but my “Must Do” list has more to do with the ferry trip across the River Styx when my name is on the ferry’s manifest.

I want to arrive at the final destination without being remorseful and regretful about what I did or didn’t do in my lifetime. ‘Getting complete’ with troubling issues from the past is the process that is helping me. Each unsettling bygone event I resolve gets me closer to the peaceful place where there is nothing left to lament! Having shed the grip of the past, it won’t be as difficult to bid adieu when Act III arrives and it’s time to shuffle off this mortal coil grateful that I outlived Hamlet by a good fifty years.

Of course, I feel sad knowing I won’t be around for the joyous events I’ll never share with my six-year-old granddaughter. But for the most part, the grief that lingers from the consequence of an irresolute past has been confronted and resolved. I’ve come to regard the wounds as hard lessons learned, recalling the painful events without being triggered to relive them again and again. I don’t want to spend my final days wallowing in regret!

I still have some outstanding cold and sullen relationships that need to dissolve in tears and hugs or be accepted as permanent thorns in an otherwise rosy life. Grudgingly I’m consenting to detente as the best of the lousy options available. After decades of unfulfilled expectations and thwarted intentions, I’ll have to live – and die – with the issues unresolved.

A degree of solace comes from knowing it’s not all about me. There are two sides to relationships and if the peace branch is spurned, there’s consolation in knowing I offered it. I like this quote from Anne Lamott about experiencing loss that you never completely get over but finally get through: “It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly – that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”

The way we live writes the history we leave behind for posterity to judge. I’ve been lucky to have an opportunity for a mid-life rewrite, shifting the location of my story from the self to the Self. I’ve moved toward selfless service, assuming responsibility and being trusting and trustworthy (trying hard to do so if not always succeeding).It’s the path I want to be on but it veers away from some of the most important people in my life who are still stuck in vanity and victimhood, the traits I want to discard.

I want our paths to reunite. I keep searching the GPS for a propitious route to make it happen. But it’s not on the screen as yet. And maybe it will never be. And I have to accept that.

3 thoughts on “What if the answer to “when” is never?

  1. Howard… where you are on this reflects my own work to leave painful regrets behind and immerse myself in the here and now. Part of that effort for me will materialize in the weekly TV show we are about to begin production on for The Third Act Project, in which five guys — writers, actors, kibitzers all — will bring hilarity to even the most trying conditions of living well in The Third Act. If you ever travel to the Berkshires, we’ll have you on as a special guest!

  2. I love what you wrote. It speaks to what I have been meditating on the past 3 years. The Third Act “bucket list” is about relationships, and facing the existential truth that there are various limitations to face including the other person’s participation in the process and the time remaining to work on it. But how you said it, something to the effect that even though one can’t control the outcome, better to feel one has put out ones best effort with all sincerity to make it better. Bill Davis let me know about your group. Some members know me, Jay David, formerly from Renfrew. I assume I am the first participant from Nome, Alaska.

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