The Bucket List: Spiritual notes from the popular media

From the day of its release, “The Bucket List” was bound to be a box office hit. How could a film miss in which Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson jet around the world participating in activities most people only dream of? To be honest, it wasn’t action like sky diving or race car driving, or even the spectacular scenery, that enthralled me. It was the banter between the two stars that piqued my interest and sometimes even made the film a spiritual experience for me.

The plot revolves around the Bucket List, a roster of prosaic dreams begun by Carter Chambers (Freeman) when he was young and enhanced by Edward Cole (Nicholson) as the two old men approach their respective finales. Most items are personal goals that do little to engage the soul. But many small bits raise the film to a higher level, especially the “Two Questions.”

The setting is definitely symbolic. While strolling outside the Taj Mahal, the most spectacular tomb in the world, Carter tells Edward that when they reached the Gates of Heaven, Egyptians had to answer two questions in order to gain admittance:

1. Did you have joy in your life?

2. Did your life bring joy to others?

Edward confidently answers in the affirmative to the first question but hesitates on the second. And that’s the rub. How many of us can really say we’ve brought joy, real joy, into the life of another human being? It takes more than simply bringing a smile when a person is down. That’s the easy part of life. It takes a deeper commitment to be a real friend: listening patiently to expressions of sadness or simply being there for the bad times.

There are other special surprises in the film, especially the way in which some items on the List are fulfilled. If we look hard enough and think deeply enough, even a movie or a book that caters to a popular audience can reap spiritual rewards. In fact, the popular media can be an effective avenue through which to touch hearts that might not otherwise be open to important ideas.

Besides, my husband and I are at an age when we’re thinking about our own Bucket Lists. They’re actually very simple: Use the gifts we enjoy, writing for me and painting for him, to touch an audience with the ideas that inspire us.

This article is a guest post by Debbie Jordan. Debbie is the author of The World I Imagine: A creative manual for ending poverty and building peace, a collection of 47 essays originating in the column she writes for the Arizona City Independent Edition. Jordan writes about her solutions to some of the world’s most detrimental social issues. Jordan is committed to inspiring others to improve the world through community involvement and volunteerism.