For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?—Matthew 16:26

Speak to us once more your solemn message of life and of death. Help us to live as those who are prepared to die.
And when our days here are ended, enable us to die as those who go forth to live, so that living or dying, our life may be in Jesus Christ our risen Lord.—classic funeral prayer

My sister Carol Ann died a little over a year ago from cancer. But while she was still fighting the disease (and apparently winning), she and her husband David saw The Bucket List. She recommended it to Susan and me, and we put it in our Netflix queue, though below some others we wanted to see a bit more. The film finally made into our DVD player last week.

Directed by Rob Reiner, The Bucket List  is about two older men, Edward and Carter, who end up sharing a hospital room. Edward (Jack Nicholson) is a corporate mogul who owns the facility; Carter (Morgan Freeman) has been a mechanic for 45 years, but wanted to be a history teacher. Whatever their differences, they now share the common bond of suffering from cancer.

During their stay, the two men develop a friendship, and ultimately decide in the time they have left to do all the things they always wanted to do, but had neither the time, inclination nor money to achieve/see/enjoy. The list they follow is the titular one, with “bucket” being the proverbial object we kick when we die.

The two start out doing wild things like skydiving, driving fast cars, and globetrotting to exotic locations. But interwoven with the tale of their travels is the story of their relationships—Carter’s with his wife, to whom he is a stranger; Edward’s with his daughter, with whom he had had a falling out over some problems she experienced. And it is relationships, not doing this or that, which ultimately prove to be the most important items to attend to on the bucket list.

As they sit viewing the Great Pyramid at Giza, Carter tells Edward about the two questions that Egyptians believed they would be asked upon crossing over into the hereafter: What joy did you know in your life? What joy did you bring to others? I can think of few more profound questions to ask ourselves.

But let’s not wait till we suffer from a terminal disease or the death of a loved one brings us face to face with our own mortality. Each of us can start today to live as those prepared to die, and in so doing, truly experience the joy of living.

© 2009 Tom Cheatham

Joy…is as notoriously unpredictable as the one who bequeaths it” (Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking). _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Earlier this month I was out in the back yard cutting the grass. Suddenly all around me there were dragonflies, darting, circling, dipping. I had never seen so many, merely the odd one here and there, and always in the front yard. The photo I feature here, by my wife Susan, is of one such insect that was basking in the sun and stayed still long enough on our front walk for the picture to be taken. dragonfly

I was so impressed with the sight of so many of these beautiful insects that I decided to try to find out if they meant anything special to cultures ancient and (post)modern. What I discovered was fascinating.

In ancient Japan, the presence of dragonflies meant a good rice harvest; they were also believed to bring good luck in battle. In paintings, they represented new life and joy. They continue to be symbols of courage, strength, and happiness in contemporary Japan.

Native American cultures also saw the insect as a symbol of life, featuring it on their ceremonial pottery. One story tells of a dragonfly made of corn and straw that came to life as a messenger of the gods and saved the people in a time of drought and famine.

Other and more modern interpretations focus on the dragonfly as an old and adaptive insect or as an inhabitant of two realms, namely, air and water. So, according to this way of thinking, if you have the dragonfly as your totem (spirit guide, patronus), you may be emotional and passionate in early years, but gain more balance and control in maturity. The insects are also associated with creative imagination and our calling to reflect the light of the divine image in us. They stand for the power to gain vision, to change and grow.

Whatever they may mean, they were a gift from God to me that particular day. The sight of them filled with me with joy, hope, and excitement. They came unbidden and unexpected, and I only saw them once more, the next day. But that’s how the gifts of God are. He grants what we need for the moment, whether a marvelous sight or extraordinary boldness, strength to keep going or sudden insight into a difficult problem. Indeed, he is as gloriously unpredictable as the flight of a darting dragonfly reflecting the light of the sun.

© 2009 Tom Cheatham