Saturday, May 25, 2013


“Bucket List” seems to have entered the popular consciousness with the 2007 Rob Reiner movie. It starred Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman as two terminally ill men on a road trip, pursuing a wish list of things they wanted to do before kicking the bucket.

But the Ultimate Bucket List, in my view, was created on a rainy afternoon back in 1939 by a 15-year-old boy daydreaming of great deeds and faraway lands. Young John Goddard worked on his “Life List” (you can peruse it here) until he’d drawn up “127 goals he wished to experience or achieve in his lifetime.”

He wanted to explore the waters of the Amazon, the Congo, the Colorado and the Nile rivers. He hoped to climb an impressive list of mountains, including Mt. Ararat in Turkey, Mt. Cook in New Zealand, Mt. Popocatepetl in Mexico and Tanzania’s Mt. Kilimanjaro. He wanted to visit the Great Wall of China, the Panama Canal and Suez Canals, Easter Island, the Galapagos Islands and the Taj Mahal.
That’s from his obituary in the May 22 Los Angeles Times. John died May 17 at the age of 88 of
a rare form of cancer. But he exited having completed more than 100 of those 127 life goals.

Many, by the way, were far more audacious or difficult than those cited by the Times obit. A few examples:
  • climb the Matterhorn
  • land and take off from an aircraft carrier
  • free dive to 40 feet and hold breath two and a half minutes underwater
  • teach a college course
  • publish an article in National Geographic
  • run a mile in five minutes
  • learn French, Spanish and Arabic
  • milk a poisonous snake
  • play Debussy’s Claire de Lune on the piano.
I had the privilege of knowing John Goddard. He was an elegant gentleman, personifying for me the Victorian adventurer, as at home in drawing room as the jungle. In this he was in a direct line of romantic and intrepid adventurer scholars—Sir Richard Burton, Sven Hedin, Richard Halliburton, Charles Doughty, Fridtjof Nansen, Thor Heyerdahl, Wilfred Thesiger.

Predictably, Goddard has been called a “modern Indiana Jones,” a title he shared with contemporary explorer-adventurer, Dr. Jack Wheeler, another grownup Eagle Scout (like Goddard) who has climbed the Matterhorn, among many other exploits.

I confess to having made my own life lists, usually after a flute or two of New Year’s champagne. Looking them over in later years, I find very, very few checkmarks in my ballot boxes. On John’s list, on the other hand, unchecked boxes are rare. True, he never appeared in a Tarzan movie (No. 93) or visited the moon (No. 125), but let’s give him a pass on those, shall we?

To quote the L.A. Times obit again:
“When he was growing up, he heard older people say with regret that they hadn’t done the things they wanted to do,” his son said this week. “He decided he was going to live a life of adventure so he wouldn’t have any regrets.” 
The only real consolation for growing up (someone once told me) was the opportunity to fulfill one’s childhood dreams. To me, John Goddard embodied that quest, and I suspect he had very few regrets when he finally closed his eyes on his lifelong dream.

And I know, if I'll only be true
To this glorious Quest,
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I'm laid to my rest.

(Joe Darion’s lyrics from "The Impossible Dream" from Man of La Mancha)

PS. For the interested, I see there has sprung up a social network website where you can keep track of your personal bucket list, add videos and images, and read about others’ adventures.

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