Do you have a list of what you want to do before you die? These four friends made their list, decided to stop waiting and start crossing things off their list and the lists of strangers. Here's an excerpt.
I still couldn’t believe what we were about to do. It had taken ten thousand miles, two twelve-hundred-pound bulls, three funerals, a week in America’s hottest desert, and an encyclopedia’s worth of life lessons to get here, but “#66: Walk the Red Carpet” was finally within sight. Every bone in my body was dancing a jig.
Fifteen months earlier, in a small sea town in western Canada, Vegas seemed a world away. Hosed by the infamous post-high-school “Where do I go now?” years, my brother, best friend, next-door neighbor, and I hatched a plan to hit the open road and attempt to live out one hundred of our wildest dreams. For each item we accomplished, we agreed to help a total stranger do something they had always dreamed about doing.
It was a harebrained scheme, hatched from a potent mix of ambition, disillusionment, and raw fury over where the world was heading. Each of us had our own reasons for enlisting and our own hurdles to overcome.Video: Bucket-list crew fulfill strangers’ dreams (on this page)
I sought independence. In the spring of 2003 my world was torn apart by the divorce of my parents. I arrived home from school one day to find my mom crying at the top of the stairs. We were an old-fashioned family, and the thought of divorce was not something that had ever crossed my mind. For the next two years the most basic aspects of my life were painfully deconstructed and examined. Then came college and a shot at reinvention. It felt natural to want to build something of my own.
Duncan needed purpose. He had been away from our family during the divorce (we’re brothers) and had sought relief in a backpacking trip around Europe between semesters at business school in Montreal. None came. Growing up, he had spent his time building go-carts and double-decker tree forts and shooting movies in our backyard. Now manhood was upon him, and the old escapes weren’t satisfying anymore. He needed something bigger.
Ben, our neighbor, was fed up. A lifetime of rugby and high marks had made him aggressively ambitious, sometimes painfully so. In his highs he was unstoppable, crushing every beer, chick, and challenge in his way. In his lows he disappeared from the world under the weight of an overactive imagination, sometimes spending days alone in his room. He wanted to change the world, but he lacked the equations to know just how.
Dave needed a boost. After five years of making his high school buddies laugh, he moved to a small farming town in Alberta to attend college. Five years of competitive break dancing had him hooked on wild people and wild times—few of which could be found in his new home. Determined to kick his joint-a-day habit, he turned to food, quickly packing on 50 pounds of ribs, steak, and macaroni from the school cafeteria. When he finally hit 210 pounds, he knew it was time to change.
The calls began in February 2006. The four of us — connected through a chance conversation between Duncan and Ben at a bar — met every Monday night on Skype to chat about life, responsibilities, and how our generation stacked up to those before it. Soon we were meeting twice, sometimes three times a week.
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No secret club is without its principles. These were ours: The pace and superficiality of modern life were robbing us of a healthy level of ambition; we were settling for mediocrity because no alternatives seemed feasible. Boy bands were our music, reality television our entertainment, and George W. Bush our president. Mediocrity was all we knew.
Obviously this was ridiculous. Everyone around us wanted more out of life, and they weren’t afraid to work for it. The tricky part was knowing where to look. Our search for spiritual salvation was clouded by round-the-clock news, advertising overload, and the switch of community from real world to online. Where the heck were we supposed to look?
It was Duncan who first suggested the list. “We can’t just talk about the things we want to do. We have to actually do these things,” he cracked. “Let’s test this. If nothing in the world were impossible, what would you do? Even if it is impossible, what do you want to do before you die?”
We arrived at the next week’s meeting with our answers.
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“If anything were possible,” I began, “I would open the six o’clock news, kiss Rachel McAdams, lead a parade, let someone else have a chance I missed.” The list went on. Dave’s list included riding a bull. Ben wanted to sing the national anthem to a packed stadium and make a toast at a stranger’s wedding. Duncan wanted to play guitar with Jack Johnson and live as close as he could to Hunter S. Thompson.
Each meeting pushed our ambitions further. Our conversations became like drugs. The thrill of mortality was a high I’d never had before. By April we had agreed on a list of one hundred mutual dreams and managed to book two weeks off from work in August to go after them. For each item we knocked off our list we promised to help a stranger experience something that they had long dreamed of — fair payback for any help we got along the way. All we needed was a name.
For weeks we laughed about the idea of being knights on a quest and stupid ways of naming ourselves accordingly. Then I was assigned to read Matthew Arnold’s 1852 lament “The Buried Life” for English 102. There were four lines that articulated what we could hardly describe to one another after months of meetings:
BUT OFTEN, IN THE WORLD'S MOST
BUT OFTEN, IN THE DIN OF STRIFE,
THERE RISES AN UNSPEAKABLE DESIRE
AFTER THE KNOWLEDGE OF OUR
BURIED LIFE . . .
That was it! We were buried. Lost. Detached from the promise of growing up. Ill prepared for adulthood, without even the vocabulary to express it. We burned to know more. How did this happen? Did others feel this way? Is this just how the world works?
Our intensity swelled. I bet my life savings on eBay to buy a secondhand video camera. Dave picked up an extra job bartending, and Ben combed the phone book to petition companies for their support.
“#43: Become a Knight for a Day” would be the first item we checked off. Three days later we were on a roll. The local newspaper had put Ben and his suit of armor on the front page (#40 on the list), and strangers from across the country began to join in. We’ve since managed to cross off “#53: Make a TV Show” and “#95: Play Ball with the President.” We’ve been on Oprah and formed a quirky million+-member community on Facebook (join in: www.facebook.com/tbl). The show has been seen in over a hundred countries in multiple languages. Next up: completing the list and taking The Buried Life into the new era. And “#100: Go to Space,” of course.
Sometimes we hate going after our dreams. They seem too hard or too far away to accomplish. All too often we expect a second go or another shot at the chances we didn’t take the first time around. “Next time,” we say. “I’ll ask her out next time.”
Life doesn’t work perfectly, and it never will. It could work better, sure, but don’t bank on happiness as a prize so far down the road that you forget the joy of right now. This is your “one wild and precious life,” and it’s up to you to decide what to do with it. Nothing should be out of reach. The shoulders of greatness are there for the standing on.
If four punks from Victoria, British Columbia, could make it this far, imagine what we could all do together. Imagine another world beyond the worn promise of boomerism. Our classrooms, careers, and culture await reinvention. Together we can make adulthood a destination, not a curse. If we held ourselves to a higher standard, we’d see that democracy could be improved, human welfare could be improved...everything can be improved if we work together.
It makes me wonder: What do you want to do before you die?
Excerpted from WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO BEFORE YOU DIE? by The Buried Life, Ben Nemtin, Dave Lingwood, Duncan Penn, and Jonnie Penn. Copyright © 2012 by The Buried Life, Ben Nemtin, Dave Lingwood, Duncan Penn, and Jonnie Penn.. Excerpted with permission by Artisan Books.
© 2012 MSNBC Interactive