My old pal Viking Bob has been traveling in Southeast Asia this spring and sending stunning photos and poignant videos to all his Facebook friends. I’m not what you would call an avid social-media participant, but some mysterious algorithm keeps dropping hints that VB has posted another photo of some giant golden Buddha in Chang Mai or a table full of empty beer bottles in Manila, and I can’t help but check in to see what the guy is up to. I figure it’ll give us something to talk about in our golf cart when he shows up next month in Minnesota.
The other day, he posted a photo of a gravestone in a cemetery somewhere in the Philippines, noting that it marked the spot where his Uncle Danny, killed in World War II, was buried. “Checking off another item on my bucket list,” he wrote.
Almost 25 years into his retirement and recently widowed, VB is enjoying the kind of dream itinerary common among geezers with time and money to spare. He spent two months reconnecting with his late wife’s family in Thailand, revisiting what was home to him during an extended tour of military duty more than 30 years ago, before setting off for the Philippines in pursuit of his uncle’s grave and who knows what other foggy memories.
I was thinking of VB and bucket lists last week as My Lovely Wife and I navigated the endless prairie of southwestern Minnesota, exploring historic sites and small-town cafés, experiencing that part of the world for the first time. I’m glad my old buddy was able to revisit what to him are certainly special places, but I’m hesitant to envision any similarly ambitious vacation dreams.
It’s not just that the thought of long-distance airline travel makes me want to assume a fetal position; it’s more about trying to avoid becoming trapped by a series of boxes that I need to check off in order to convince myself I’ve lived my life to the fullest. Why not instead accept adventures — large and small — as they play out and experience themto the fullest?
As the results of a 2014 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research point out, the older we get, the more likely we are to value the mundane. “Ordinary moments that make up everyday life tend to be overlooked when the future seems boundless,” the authors wrote. “However, these ordinary experiences increasingly contribute to happiness as people come to realize their days are numbered.”
Years from now, when MLW and I recall our visit to the far southwestern corner of our state, I’m pretty sure what will come to mind won’t be the marvels of the pipestone quarries or the Jeffers petroglyphs or the bison at Blue Mounds State Park. Our memories will more likely focus on that disheveled guy at Lange’s Café who regaled us with his life’s lamentations while we waited for our breakfast, the gnats that left a batch of nasty welts on my neck while we were hiking on a prairie path, and the fact that we somehow forgot to pack a deck of cards.
In some 40 years of travels, both near and far, we’ve never failed to bring along playing cards for our evening entertainment. For some reason, we left them at home when we set out on the road last week and found ourselves searching small-town drug stores and gift shops in vain for a new deck. We had pretty much given up hope of locating one by the time we stopped at the End of the Line Railroad Park and Museum in Currie, Minn., three days into our vacation. We made a quick pass through the gift shop and, finding none, ambled around the grounds. As we were preparing to leave, MLW returned to the shop while I sat outside in the welcoming shade, watching the starlings chase a small hawk out of a neighboring oak.
I’m pretty certain I’m never going to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro or ride a camel amid the Great Pyramids, but I can’t imagine those marvels would elicit quite as much joy as I felt when MLW emerged from the shop with a spanking new deck of cards. It didn’t really matter that she trounced me at 500 Rummy later that evening. That memory will endure.