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He told us of his immigrant parents; of his early days as a writer; and of his first love, whose parents had refused their engagement. He mentioned an award he won for a play he wrote in his 20s, the pride he had in his own son's talents, a trip to China he had undertaken in his 70s, and his deep regret that he wrote less and less with the passing of time. Lots of little events, things he might have spent a single afternoon on fifty years earlier, somehow found their way into his thoughts during these last days.
I hadn't heard half the stories. It made me wonder what I would remember when I was in his place. Would the last couple of years even get a mention?
As we headed home and our old car ate up the miles, my sister (24) and I (30) realized that this was the first trip we had taken together since our parents' recent divorce. Grumps's perspective on life had sparked off a thousand thoughts in Margaret and me and we soon began swapping stories of our own.
Just out of college, Margaret was struggling to balance paying her bills with trying to figure out how best to move forward. She confessed that - over a bottle of wine with her good friend Erika - she had recently written down a list of things she wanted to do before she died. To her everlasting credit, Margaret shared her list with me, and her imaginative and honest choices served to wake me up to some ideas worth considering. "Go ahead, take a look," she said. "It's in the glove compartment."
Scanning her handwritten sheet of goals, I could see reflected in her choices parts of my sister that I knew well, plus a number of surprises. Ranging from the serious to the scandalous, Margaret's list of ambitions, desires, and curiosities was as good a self-portrait as any I'd seen. More than that, you could see that in the process of writing it, she had uncovered some unexpected possibilities.
The next day, I sat down over a coffee with a blank sheet of paper. Without thinking about it too much to start with, I wrote the first thing that came to mind - "photograph the Northern Lights." As I wrote it, almost to my surprise, I realized that it was something I genuinely wanted to do. Over the next few days, as I continued to write my own list, I not only remembered a number of ambitions I had forgotten but also discovered several new things I hoped to do - some of them on my own, others along with friends and family.
When I got stuck for ideas, I was reminded of Grumps's life story and the many small things he had remembered. I found I took as much pleasure in writing simple plans for the future such as "build a bookcase for my kids" and "own a dog" as I did in the more ambitious stuff. On my list, too, were things that I knew would be there: things I had always wanted to try but had talked myself out of doing. Of course, I didn't run out and do them all that day, but seeing those goals naked on the page, next to all the other ideas, somehow made them less imposing. Placing them in a context I hadn't really given much thought to before - that life doesn't go on forever - made my reasons not to at least explore them suddenly seem less persuasive.
I wrote down 76 goals over those next few days. For the first time in months, I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and that simple fact filled me with the enthusiasm I needed to begin pursuing some long-held ambitions. Armed with this list of mine, I began to see time as something to work with, not fight against.
Like most things, 2DO Before I Die started small. Over beers a couple of months later, my friend Chris and I got talking about the list I had made. Chris had his own take, and out of our conversation this project began to take shape. We were curious to get a sense of what other people felt was genuinely memorable and are grateful that so many chose to share their stories.
This book is not an attempt to provide a "definitive" list of things to do. Its aim is really just to stir up the possibilities, bounce around some ideas, and explore both what's important and what's possible. The hope is that through the questions, suggestions, and true stories that follow, you'll want to join that conversation as well.
Excerpted from 2Do Before I Die by Michael Ogden Chris Day Copyright © 2005 by Michael Ogden and Chris Day. Excerpted by permission.
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