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Life Is Not a Check List

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On our last trip together, my roommate said something to me that I can’t seem to get out of my head: Life is not a checklist.

It seems like, in the last few years, we have all developed a little thing called a ‘bucket list,’ a catalog of things we want to do before we die. One of the things on my list was to study abroad, in Europe. One week from today I will be home, with my adventure abroad coming to a close. One week from today, I will have one more check mark on my bucket list.

When Carlee (my roommate) and I were reflecting about our trip thus far and she said the biggest thing she’s learned is that life is not a checklist, it got me thinking. There are so many things I want to do, to accomplish in life, and, with some hard work, I know I can. I am such a planner- I hate not having a plan for each day, not knowing what I want to do. I don’t like “flying by the seat of my pants” because it is too unsure. Like a lot of people, I am terrified of the unknown, and so I avoid it by planning. But sometimes, life throws things at us that we don’t plan for, that aren’t on any list, and that we never plan on “crossing off.”

My trip to Europe has turned into one of those things. Yes, it was planned for. Yes, it is on my “list.” But what has happened while I’ve been here is not. I have had to learn how to live in the moment- possibly one of the most challenging things anyone could make me do. I have learned how to fix problems I didn’t plan for, and I have had to learn how to marvel at unexpected discoveries. One thing I will never forget is the moment I saw Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. I was with Carlee and our other roommate and we were coming up the stairs from the subway, in search of the famed cathedral. As we trudged up the steep stairwell, we all sighed as we realized we still had to search for it. Once we reached street-level and turned to find our bearings, there it was, towering over the city. It literally took my breath away- I wasn’t ready to see it yet, I hadn’t planned on finding it so easily, but it was ready to be seen.

It was at that moment that I realized that life is not a checklist. We all have things we want to do, places we want to see, goals we want to achieve. By no means am I saying we shouldn’t- I plan on adding to my bucket list more and more as I grow older. But life is not measured by how many check marks we have on these lists; it’s measured by the unplanned-for problems, the unexpected discoveries, and, as cliché as it is, the moments that take our breath away.

No one plans on having cancer. No one can prepare for it. If they did, it would only drive them insane with worry. It is just one of those things that life throws at us sometimes- “a bad cell day” as my mom calls it. Because my mom had cancer, my family has learned how to be a better family, divorced or not. We have learned that there is no problem that can’t be solved, no fight that can’t be won, and that the greatest gifts can come out of nowhere and wrapped in the oddest packaging. My uncle gave my mom a mug that says, “Nothing is worth more than this day.” I’ve always loved it and believed it, but I’ve never felt it until now.

We all have our lists- grocery lists, to-do lists, bucket lists, lists, lists, lists. Crossing something off those lists, for me at least, is one of the greatest feelings because it makes me feel accomplished. Now though, I understand a little more that it’s really not about crossing these things off- if you get to them, you get to them. But don’t focus so much on planning, because you are afraid, that you forget to live in the moment. Don’t miss what is right in front of you because it didn’t quite fit into your pre-made schedule. Sometimes, the greatest beauty is in the unknown.