Life Lists

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Sunset on the Okavango Delta, Botswana
Greetings from Napoli! This blog has been severely neglected but not forgotten. It turns out that traveling for six months takes up a lot of time.  My other excuse is my summer reading lists for the graduate program I’ll be starting in September. I’ll leave out of the conversation my biostatistics book for now but it will make an appearance later simply because it opens using US statistics on gun violence and abortions and it’s a revelation.

Have any of you read the book Why Nations Fail? I’ve never wanted to recommend a book more than this one. In fact, if I could I would require it for everyone with whom I regularly discuss politics and world affairs. It’s the education I think most people need in order to understand why prosperity or poverty exists and how countries can or cannot change. Self-righteous, Americans uneducated on the origins of economic and political systems especially should give it a read. While it’s required reading for discussion on my first day of class, this is not a textbook and it is anything but dry. I hope you’ll give it a read.

Traveling to countries discussed in the book has made the education process all the more real. Botswana is highlighted as a democratic success story while Namibia is not. I had opportunities to discuss the political and economic systems in each of these countries with citizens on far extremes of the economic spectrum. I also had the opportunity in each of these countries to spend time with women, all mothers, who are living in extreme poverty asking them questions about their lives and the social order that defined their present and their future. And I also discussed the same questions with the men in their lives. I’m still processing what these brave people shared with me. It’s too much to write about now.

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One of my last discussions in Namibia was with a waitress at our lodge. She was lucky to have a good job, clothes, plenty of food to eat, and an education. But something struck me at the end of our discussion. She had as many questions for me as I had for her and when she was done asking me about my education and our travels she said, “Talking with you is like hearing my bucket list come to life.”

Now I fell for Morgan Freeman’s and Jack Nickolson’s character’s wishes to come to terms with their lives and live out their “bucket lists” before they kicked the bucket just like everyone else…but now that term seems different to me. The movie The Bucket List was focused on characters who were dying. I’ve often thought we are all dying from the moment we are born so why not LIVE?! When my Namibian friend used the term “bucket list” it struck me as a defeat against her dreams for now. And to be honest now that I think of all the people I know who talk about their dreams in the context of a bucket list I feel the same desire to offer a different perspective.

What about “Life Lists”? The biggest and scariest moves I’ve made in my life have all started with an internal dialogue that went like this: “I’m not happy with my situation. Something has to change. I’m not dying like this! I need to create the life I want to live.”

Ever since I packed up my family and moved across the country people have asked me how I’ve been able to make such big changes. People often share their dreams to make big changes but tell me how scared they are and ask me for some advice to get started. While the answer is somewhat complex, it can also be pretty simple. Somehow I’ve felt the life I have and that each of us has is the greatest gift we will ever receive. My mother taught me to appreciate everything I’ve been given and my nonna Nicastro taught me never to waste anything, ever. The more I am I touch with those lessons the easier I’ve found it to do the things that make me happiest while I’m living. I don’t want to save a list of things to do until just before I die. Because the truth is it could be tomorrow for any of us. I wish everyone would stop using the term “bucket list” and instead use the term “life list”.

PS, for any of my classmates from Crete-Monee class of ’89 who may be reading this, a bit of this post is in honor of TG, may his gentle soul rest in peace.

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