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In its original form, this book was a lecture given in the spring of 1987 at Saint Mary's College, Notre Dame, Indiana. As part of a student-planned program called "The Last Lecture Series," faculty and administrators were invited to prepare a lecture pretending it was the last one given before we died--our parting words. Because I was dean of students at the time, I suggested that the only reason they invited me was that they wanted me dead the next morning. I never underestimate the power of a drop-dead good lecture. But lecturing has never been a burning interest of mine, and it was difficult at first to imagine wanting to give one right before I died. I almost declined the invitation but decided instead to leave behind a list.
Making lists has always been a source of great fascination for me and obviously countless others (e.g., the Ten Commandments, "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover," the Seven Deadly Sins). The point-by-point appeal is universal. So making a list of all the things I'm real glad I did before I died, and all the things I suggest they think about doing before they die, is how this book got started. The list turned into the lecture, which felt like the outline for a book, the end result of which you are holding in your hands.
One thing to keep in mind about this particular list is that the items are not given in any order of importance. All are listed in the way they came to mind, and all are profoundly important at one time or another, some all the time. So don't be shocked to find that, for a nun, fun is number one on the list and God number three. All ten things connect. None stands alone or apart from the others.
Making your own list is a must. The experience itself is worth tons more than the price of this book. Plus you never know where your list will lead. "Ten More Things to Do Before You Die" has a nice ring to it, or "Ten Things to Never Do Before You Die": The possibilities are endless. For a real sweet treat, ask children to make a list. I asked my niece and nephews (ages seven, ten, and five at the time) what one thing they thought everybody should do before they die. Immediately and with great enthusiasm all three yelled, "Watch G.L.O.W. on Saturday night." G.L.O.W.--Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. Then came their list of favorite G.L.O.W. girls--Tina Ferrari, Mountain Fiji, Attache, Palestina, and Soul Patrol. My favorite was the tag team of Spike and Chainsaw. The possibilities are as fun as they are endless. Do make your own list.
First Thing: Have More Fun Than Anyone Else
Having more fun than anyone else always comes to mind as the very first thing to do before you die. Fun--my favorite F word. Fooling around. Finding the good laugh waiting to be discovered. When it comes to having fun, I often feel as if few have had as much as I. Life has been jam-packed and fun-filled with divine experiences I never would've known had I not taken the strange, at the time funny-looking, less-traveled road of a nun. So important is that road to my having had so much fun that "Think About Nuns" ended up number six on my list of things to do before you die. The longer I lived the life of a nun, the richer, the holier, and the funnier my days became. That's its promise for women as well as its staying power for me.
Lest you think that all the emphasis on fun is little more than a silly tiptoe through the tulips, think again. Anyone who's funny knows there's a dear price to be paid for all the foolishness. Having more fun than anyone else means you always have to work twice as hard at everything for not being serious enough. And you are most likely to be taken less seriously as a result. But trust me on this one: It's always well worth the extra effort. Nothing refreshes, comforts, and heals like a good time. Nothing exhilarates and sends the soul soaring more than having the best time ever--so much so that face muscles ache from such hearty laughter. You must know that kind of fun often before you die. May you have millions of such laughs. Time rarely gets more divine than that.
With an infinite number of ways to have more fun than anyone else, it took me nearly half a century to find four.
Four Ways to Have Fun
1.Find fun people.
Oddly enough, one of the hardest things to find throughout this life is fun people. Far too few fill our days and nights, and seemingly fewer survive adulthood. I know it's not at all true that the older you get, the less there is to make you laugh. On the contrary, the older I get, the more there is that makes me laugh, and the less there is that bugs me or throws me for a loop. It's a fine art to have more fun when alone, and the pure joy of all that fun gets divinely multiplied and intensified by the company of other funny people. The time capsule in my mind is loaded with such precious moments, any one of which can set me off into laughing just as I did then. An amazing grace.
In the very serious search for fun people, these are some things to watch for: a good appetite, interesting work, good storytelling, slightly twisted sense of humor, fresh insight, brave choices. There are certainly other fun signs you know the minute you see them because they inspire instant laughter. Whoever discovered that "laughter is the best medicine" would undoubtedly agree that having so much fun is even good for your health. And finding people who always make you laugh is the surest guarantee for a happy and healthy life, now and forever. It's clearly one of the very best things you can do for yourself, and humankind, before you die.
2.Don't think about yourself around other people.
There are those in life who appear cursed with no desire at all to raise their attention and conversation above themselves. That is near irremediable. After about five minutes, it's also totally boring, dull, uninteresting, and monotonous. It even feels tiring and wearisome writing about it. Such selfishness is the stuff of which boredom is made, the number one killer of a good time. Left unchecked, it renders everyone incapable of having any fun at all, making it deadly enough to be a sin. The Eighth Deadly Sin.
A good general rule is to think about yourself when alone, and, when in the presence of others, think and ask about them. Expressing interest in the life and work of others not only leads to the delightful reputation of being an interesting person and good conversationalist, it also reveals immediately those with the greatest potential for fun. One thing you never want to do before you die is become a rude, boring, selfish, tiresome person. The secret lies in this: Forget about yourself around other people.
3.Be a fun person.
The only real foolproof way to have more fun than anyone else is for you yourself to become a fun person. Growing up in a funny family is certainly the most ideal training ground, with funny friends and relatives providing a great backup. The now-vintage experience of being taught by nuns in the 1950s is still an endearing source of laughter for many, as it was to my friends and me for years. Throughout life, it's very important to surround yourself with a majority who are fun to be with, including those we work for, live with, play with, hire, date, and marry. The fun ones always teach the importance of laughing at ourselves, a divine activity all its own as well as the heart and soul of growing up funny.
After all these years, I found two tried and true ways to stay funny. One is to make yourself interesting, and the other has to do with perfect timing. Making yourself interesting is so crucial to being funny that it turned up seventh on my list of things to do before you die, thus getting its own chapter. Suffice it to say now that each of us is endowed with a playful soul that always experiences as divine the most interesting and funniest of times. And the daily care and feeding of that playful soul is our holy duty until the day we die.
Perfect timing, carpe diem, is the soul mate of making yourself interesting and has everything to do with paying careful attention to the events of the day as they unfold, watching and waiting for moments loaded with potential for fun. There is no time with more divine potential for fun than the present moment. It passes once and never again. Now you see it. Now you don't.
So pay extra careful attention to the strange, disturbing, boring, moving, and hilarious parts of the day--the high-energy centers where potential for release and relief is greatest. Turn off the Pennsylvania Turnpike and visit Clyde Peeling's Reptile Farm. Never pass a Dairy Queen or Krispy Kreme without paying your respects. Take that mud road back into a Louisiana bayou and watch your whole life flash before you. Stop at every flea market and garage sale. Go to the Coney Island Mermaid Festival on the Summer Solstice. A funny person is forever attentive to the present moment and rarely fails to seize its divine opportunity for fun.
4. If it looks like fun and doesn't break the Ten Commandments, do it.
While talking about fun and the Ten Commandments in the same sentence may sound like a cruel joke, I still find both nowhere near as foolish as they may appear. I also still find both essential to my having more fun than anyone else. Limitations, boundaries, comfort zones, knowing when to stop, the point beyond which we do not go without hurting or getting hurt. All are created equal in order to keep us from destroying others and ourselves in the endless pursuit of happiness. Without a few basic guidelines for living happily ever after, the capacity to get lost, seriously hurt, or killed greatly magnifies.
However appealing it may appear, pursuing unlimited possibilities does little more than overwhelm us with countless experiences that always move faster than our conscious selves can keep up with. In due time, the juggling act falls apart and a spacey, confusing mindlessness becomes a way of life. Getting thrown off balance, we end up shifting priorities, consequently knowing ourselves and others less and less. Never a very pretty picture. Nothing funny about that at all.
In order to have more fun than anyone else, I suggest thinking about your own commandments, your own rules for living. "No hitting" is a good one, as is "Control your flock by keeping them in a large pasture." The Ten Commandments are probably the most famous, reliable set of rules we know, possibly this world's first to-do list. Every religion is divinely inspired to create rules for a happy life. So are we all. It didn't take me long to come up with Seven More Commandments, and it won't take you long either. While no one likes rules very much because they always appear to stand in the way of a very good time, you are not at all likely to have more fun than anyone else without them. So if it looks like fun and doesn't break the Ten Commandments, do it.