Kill your bucket list | Edward Readicker-Henderson | TEDxMaui


Translator: Nadine Hennig
Reviewer: Denise RQ I went coffin shopping in Ghana, and if you go, if you’re not
in the whole pine box motif, Ghana is the place to go. (Laughter) If you want to be buried in a giant
beer bottle, that’s not a problem. (Laughter) Water goes through
the afterlife proclaiming your undying devotion to the oil industry. It’s a little weird but you could do that. How about be buried in a fish,
in a cow, in a pineapple, in a sort of chocolate
eclair looking thing. (Laughter) They’ve got a ride on the showroom floor. And here, of course, is the one
I picked, the traveler’s coffin. (Laughter) And you know, maybe I’m being presumptuous because this is obviously
the good traveler’s coffin, bad travelers going to hell,
get a middle seat in coach. (Laughter) I was in Ghana as part of this tour that was billed as “the West Africa
you must see before you die; check off your bucket list,”
and we were doing really cool things. We went to Timbuktu which means
for the rest of my life, I can casually say,
“When I was in Timbuktu…” (Laughter) We went to Victoria Falls
which is unbelievable. The force of all this water,
falling off the edge of the world is so loud that even from a mile away when I got cornered by an enraged monkey
and started to yell for help, not a single one of the zebras looked up. (Laughter) And we went out into
the sand dunes of Namibia at night where there were more stars than
I’ve ever seen anywhere in my life. But they were Southern hemisphere stars, so I didn’t know them, I didn’t recognize
any of the patterns in the sky. And I had this weird moment
of transposition, of thinking maybe I’m the one on a different planet, maybe one of those little,
blinking lights is everything I love. And in Ghana, our hotel
was right on the beach, but in the morning when we loaded out, I discovered that not a single one
of the people I was with, not a single one of these people
spending vast sums of time and money to see the world they had to see
before they die, had so much in going to
stuck a toe in the ocean, not one of them had gone down
and stood into the Bight of Benin which was really, surprisingly cool I thought when I was washing
the coffin sawdust off my feet, but you know, it just wasn’t
on my bucket list. And somehow it has all
become about the bucket list: books you must read, movies
you must see, music you must hear. These great imperatives
of all these things you must check off because art and beauty are things
that you could say, (ticks) “Did it.” And nowhere has this taken over
as much as it has in travel. You don’t go on a vacation anymore, you don’t just go to Spain
and drink sangria, you go to Spain and hike
for Camino [de Santiago]. And you don’t go to Paris
and watch the boulevards, you go eat in every
3-star Michelin restaurant, and if you don’t do these things, if you ignore these imperatives of things
you must do before you die, obviously your life is meaningless. (Laughter) So you’ve got to ‘carpe’ that ‘diem,’ you’ve got to be checking off
that bucket list like you’re Santa Claus
on a cocaine bender (Laughter) because for just like the naked teenagers
in the horror movie you are going to die
and the question is not if but when. But I started to think – I’m not good at doing what I’m told to. I don’t want to have to do things. What if, instead of thinking
I had to do something before I die, what if I just did something
while I was alive? (Laughter) (Applause) What if I just did something because the day is there and you can? What if I just did it because it’s fun? Because this – (heart beats) – is more or less
what you are left to live sounds like. The doctors would not let me
record my own heart, so I found this one online (Laughter) under the title “sounds associated
with sudden death,” which is just this really fun thing
to have come up on your iPod shuffle, and you can just hear in the back
in your head that Dick Clark voice saying: “It’s got a crappy beat,
and you absolutely cannot dance to it.” (Laughter) But the first time I was told I had less than a year to live
was about 15 years ago (Applause) and since then I’ve been told
five more times. Once every couple of years,
the medical profession gets together and says: “Hey, you!” (whistles)
“Out of the pool. Time’s up.” (Laughter) And as you’ve already guessed:
spoiler alert! (Laughter) Now, if we put aside the possibility that somehow, I am as indestructible
and immortal as Keith Richards (Laughter) what we’re left with is that because of my refusal to die on cue so far, I have consciously lived the last year of my life 6 times. (Applause) Most people do this once,
or not at all, and they get it over with, but I’ve done it again
and again and again, and sometimes, I have done it really well. I have been to more than 50 countries
since I was told to stop traveling. I’ve met kings and shamans,
and I’ve fallen in love, and I’ve fallen back in love, and I have been pecked by penguins. (Laughter) And, of course, sometimes I do
the whole dying thing very badly. Somebody once posted on Facebook: “I’m going to live every day
like it’s my last.” And my little sister just blasted them: “Yeah, well, my brother just found out
this really might be his last day, and he’s decided he’s going to spend it
taking painkillers and eating cookies.” (Laughter) Yeah, HobNobs and Vicodin,
the breakfast of people who are just too tired to care
of their Champions. (Laughter) So, now is really when I wish
I could say something uplifting (Laughter) and there are people
who can do that, you know, there are people who come through
this storm, or their version of the storm, and they find some measure
of hope or enlightenment, and death makes them bigger. I missed that bus.
(Laughter) At best, I can tell [that] dying sucks. It’s painful and it’s humiliating,
and every day you wake up and there’s another
little piece of you missing. And no matter how empty the tanks are, somehow, you have to find a way
to compensate for this, to find a way to still be who you are. And even worst than that is that dying makes you see pain in the faces of the people you love, and you can’t save them from that pain because it’s the pain of them
wanting to save you. So, you know, maybe you can get
an epiphany or two out of it (Laughter) but it seems to me
like a really expensive way to hit these epiphanies. As far as I can see, dying is
absolutely nothing to live for. (Laughter) It’s just nothing to live for which is why this whole bucket list idea
freaks me out so much. Why on earth is everybody
so excited about writing lists, a to-do list that invariably
the last thing on is die? No, I just couldn’t do that; it was just – I had enough lists from doctors already, and I’m not going to write
my own list that says die, so I just… screw it! I’m going to go find some peace and quiet which brings us here to Haleakalā. (Applause) If you go looking for peace and quiet, you very quickly find out there isn’t any. Humans are the species that make noise, and we are just ever
better and better at it. Your car stereo is probably more powerful than the amps the Beatles had
when they played Shea Stadium. Noise is so much a part
of the fabric of our daily lives that if you get a person
from North America into a relaxed state and ask them to hum a note, the note they are overwhelmingly
likely to hum is a B natural which is the same note as the electricity and the wires
everywhere around us. And, of course, we make all this noise
for the very simple reason as anybody who has ever tried
to meditate will tell you: it’s worse in here,
it’s much, much worse in here, it’s so loud in here, all those lists
of the things that you should do, but haven’t, and shouldn’t do, but have;
and who you should be, but aren’t, that endless pounding of desires. And I have just going to… I’m going to
get very far away from all this. So, I went up to the Arctic where I camped with the locals and listened to the hard click
of Caribou hooves on migration. And I went to Mongolia
where I was kayaking on a lake up near the Russian border, and the ice
was just breaking up for the spring, and there was this amazing, delicate
wind chime sound in the crackles. And out at the Marshall Islands
I was on this tiny little atoll. When a storm hit at night
and as I was listening to it, I realized I can hear a difference
in the waves in the lagoon and the waves in the ocean;
they’re making different sounds. And so I ran outside, pouring rain,
palm trees thrashing around coconuts dropping like cannonballs. I am standing there,
and I am moving back and forth, and I am listening to this duet
of lagoon and ocean, and the world is singing just for me. And then I got sick
which is nothing unusual. I am always at some degree sick, but this was “somebody’s cut
the elevator cables free fall” sick. I was briefly poured into a wheelchair. I spent about six months passing out every time I did something
dramatic like stand up. And I found out
that, if I’m understanding this correctly, it’s possible to dehydrate your eyeballs
which makes the entire world look as if you’re walking through a room
of slightly deflated party balloons. And so, in this state, of course, I am going to
book a ticket to go to Hawaii to climb down a volcano. And I figured there was about
an 80% chance I’d die, to be honest. When I told my doctor, he just went:
“I’m out, I’m done, I’m out.” When I left home, my will was
neatly centered on my desk where to be easy to find. But, you know, I was OK with the risk because first, I knew eventually
my friends will love telling the story: “What happened to Edward?” “He threw himself
into a volcano and died.” (Laughter) And second, because
as the poet Frank O’Hara said: “We fight for what we love,
not what we are.” You don’t need to fight for death,
it’s nothing to live for. It’s much much better
to fight to be alive. The bottom of Haleakalā might be the quietest place on earth. People who researched
these things are not entirely sure because when they went to measure it, it was so quiet, the microphones picked up
the sound of their own mental fatigue which made getting
an accurate reading impossible. (Laughter) So I started hiking right after sunrise. It took me about seven hours to get down. I don’t know how many times I fell. I don’t know how many times
I just sat down and said, “OK, I’m going to die here.” There was, I don’t know, maybe an hour, where I was either
sleep walking or hallucinating, – I don’t know which one it was –
but I did get there. I got to the point that the park service
does not want to identify too closely as the quietest place on earth. And I collapsed, and so,
I had no choice but to listen. And I listened
until my head stopped screaming: “You are going to die in a volcano.” And I listened
until my head stopped saying: “You are going to die in a volcano.
That’s kind of cool.” And I had been told that
if it’s a really quiet day down there, you’ll not exactly hear
but be aware of a pulse which is actually the waves
hitting the island miles and miles off. And I did hear something. It actually sounded kind of like that.
(Heart beats) It sounded like the world saying: “Your heart is still beating,
you’re not dead yet.” It sounded like the world
saying, “Let’s go outside and play.” So when I got out of the volcano,
I felt better than I had in years, and I completely changed
the way I traveled. Instead of saying, “I want
to see,” I said, “I wonder,” and I would go places with
no idea what I was going to find. I would just show up to see
what was going to happen. I wonder what memory smells like, and I ended up
in the perfume fields of France. I wonder why two people,
standing right next to each other, can see such entirely different things. And I went to a bunch
of haunted houses in England to try and find a ghost because your bucket list
puts these expectations. You already know before you get there
what it’s going to be like. But how often is it really like that? A friend and I did
the great romantic trip to Venice. And we drank Bellinis by the Grand Canal, and we went for gondola rides, and we slept in palaces,
and we kissed at the top of bridges to protect each other from trolls (Laughter) and it was OK, we had a nice time. But really, I mean, I look at my life, the two most important things
I can think of, the two things without which I would not be me, happened in a high school library
and a hotel hallway. And how would I have ever known
to want these things? How could I have ever put them
on my list and say: “These are the things
that I must do before I die.” You have to be there for the surprise. So, after Venice, we had
a couple of days left of vacation, and we just asked the hotel concierge
what we should do. And he went (Signals one moment),
made a phone call wrote us this quick note
of directions and said: “Here, you’re really going to enjoy this,” which is how we ended up at the entire,
really miraculous little town of Asolo. It’s only about an hour outside
of Venice, but it’s a different world. It’s all cobblestones and window boxes, and despite all the leaves you see there,
there’s really more birds in those trees, and everyone of them is singing. And I went into the food shop
and asked the proprietor, if the jar of honey was from Asolo
which in my fluent Italian might go, (Points to honey) “Asolo?”
(Laughter) and the man’s face
just lit up, said, “Asolo!” (Laughter) And I looked at him more closely, and he had this throat,
this ear to ear scars of who knows how many throat surgeries. But now, he was really excited
because he could sell us an Asolo picnic, and he ran around the store
and grabbed bread “Asolo!”, and figs “Asolo!”, and olives “Asolo!”, and this really amazing blue veined cheese that you could smell clear
across the room “Asolo!”, and when I pointed at another cheese
that I wanted, he said, “No Asolo!”, (Laughter) and he wouldn’t sell it to us. And, yeah, of course, that was
the greatest lunch of my life (Applause) and in that utter surprise, something
we never could have put on a bucket list because 24 hours before
we had never heard of this town. My friend and I found everything
that we had been hoping for from the trip, and everything that we had been hoping
to be for each other on the trip. Your bucket list is about you. It’s you trying to stop time, live every day like it’s your last,
check off the bucket list. And what you’re really doing
is trying to make your life into these little collections
of snow globes and say: “Here, these are the things
that really matter to me.” But if you just live
because you are alive, then you’re actually in the river of time
and you’re telling a story, and if you don’t think
that the difference lists-story matters, try it on a little kid: “The Princess went to the store,
and she bought butter, and milk, and eggs, and sugar,” and see
how long you can hold their attention. Now, compare that to the guy in Asolo who didn’t sell us a grocery list, he sold us the story
of the place he loved. He sold us the story of the passion
that had healed his scars. The great thing about stories is that they only work if you share them; and so, you can take these stories
of all the wonders the world has held and you can curl up around the people
you love, and you can say: “Once upon a time, doctors told me all these horrible things that were going
to happen, but here’s what I did instead. Here’s what I did instead
of what they expected me to do.” Because I can tell you,
I have never been over the edge, but I’ve been right up
to it a number of times, and the view from there, you don’t care that you ran with the bulls
or swam with sharks; you care that you had never been
too much of a coward to say I love you when it needed to be said, you care that you said thank you
way more often than you said please. Your bucket list is a ‘please:’ “dear world, please give me these things,
I promise I’m going to make them matter.” If you ignore the bucket list, if you just live to be alive, you’ll find out that there’s no reason to
go shopping for coffins one minute early. You’ll find out that instead of trying
to drop things in your bucket list, you’ll find that the world
is just pouring things into it. Everything is coming into it,
and it’s just overflowing, and so all you really have to do when the time finally does come, is let go of them and say thank you. (Applause)

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