(My entry in class of 2014's book about their lists and such)
In 2010, while home on maternity leave, I discovered The Buried Life, a show about four young guys who seemed to have the perfect balance between planning for awesomeness and spontaneously letting awesomeness occur. They would do things like set out to have the greatest party ever, without even knowing where it would happen, but believing that it would. Sure enough, just like in every other episode, they achieved the perfect balance of asking just the right questions and finding just enough luck, and they pulled off the most amazing party, complete with rooftop stage and surprise musical guest.
Inspired by the show, I made my own list. Although the guys on the show had 100 items, my list only had 50. I guess I felt like that was good enough, or perhaps just manageable? I just knew my life had changed for the better. Let the amazingness begin.
But I accomplished so little that year. Of course, I did give birth. I spent the majority of the year pregnant and the rest of it nursing. I had important priorities.
Regardless, in January 2011, I realized that the idea of the buried life is to live life intentionally – not to have a list of things you hope happen to you before you die. Yes, life can be lived that way… waiting for things to happen… but that is not the life poet Matthew Arnold was talking about when he spoke of an “unspeakable desire… a thirst to spend our fire and restless force tracking out our true original course” (49-50). Fresh with this realization, I did something I never do – I made a New Year’s resolution. I resolved to make an effort to cross things off my list.
I also decided that my students could benefit from such a project. As I began planning for crossing off items, I found myself doing quite a bit of research. It was really about asking the right questions and hoping to find a good answer. This is really the basis of all research, and I thought that students could benefit from experiencing the buried life research process. Perhaps they would begin to see research in a different light. Instead of seeing research as the process of searching for stuff to shove in a paper to make it sound good, they would see research as the process of finding information to achieve a purpose. Farfetched? Perhaps, but it might just be crazy enough to work.
The project took some prep work – we spent time reading the poem and watching the show and making lists, but eventually I got them on computers, actively, purposefully, searching. They began budgeting and realizing that some things are more costly than others. While some students felt practically hopeless upon seeing the high price tags attached to their dreams, I could see other students were empowered. They might not cross off those expensive items this year, but it gave them a reason to want to work hard and have a decent income someday. I hadn’t considered that reaction. Let’s just say that the side effects of this project were even better than I could have hoped.
They learned a lot. They learned persuasion as they went about convincing their parents to help them with their goals. They learned that some things are not worth trying to talk your parents into and that some of their parents are pretty good at persuading too. As they looked at hundreds of sky diving companies, they learned that none of them take minors, no matter what paper is signed or who is strapped to your back. Disappointing, yes, but it also forced them to read a whole lot of expository text they would not have read otherwise. They learned, literally, to read the fine print.
And you know what… they made some pretty awesome memories too. Life is truly about the moments, and I know my students created those moments last year. Some went to their first rock concert, while others rock climbed. Some learned to knit, while others knit bonds of friendship they never expected. Some convinced their parents to teach them to drive, while others became experts at driving their parents crazy. When I look back on last year, there is one thing I know for sure… it is a year we will never forget.
Of course, there I go… like a typical teacher… talking all about my students’ experiences, rather than mine, but I think that is part of what I learned about myself this year. Sure, there are a lot of things I want to personally experience in life, but I have found the true joy in my calling as a teacher. People like to talk about parents living vicariously through their children, and as a parent, I know how much joy there can be in this. Ask any parent who has brought a child to Disneyland. Nothing compares to the joy that fills my heart when my son sees that castle. As a teacher, I have more than 100 kids. As I set students about tasks that ignite passion and spur new experiences, I live through each of them, and my life is wholly richer for it.
The past 18 months have been amazing. I started the project again in the fall of 2011, with a new class of students. I blogged my own journey alongside theirs, sharing my worries about whether or not my one-year-old daughter could handle a full day on “The Road to Hana” so I could swim in a tropical waterfall in Maui. They pushed me to go for it, and when I came back with pictures and videos of my breathtaking moment beneath Waikani Falls, I think we kind of all celebrated together. I told them about the adrenaline rush of swimming to the falls, turning around, and looking up at this lush green paradise, hours from civilization. I could see their eyes light up, imagining their own adventures to come.
This year, I crossed off one item after another. I saw Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. I hiked a volcano. I got published in my local newspaper. I rode a mechanical bull. I caught beads from Mardi Gras floats in New Orleans.
Inspired by my students, I more than doubled the size of my buried list.
But, more importantly – Kimmy rode a roller coaster. Stephanie learned to bake. Several of my students went ziplining. Veronica watched the sunset on the beach. Brenda raised more than $200 for the Autism Walk. Eric recruited a quidditch team. Diana confessed her feelings to her crush. And I suspect there are other things I will never hear about.
Abraham Lincoln once wisely commented that, “in the end, its not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” As I’ve watched my students fill their year with life, I have experienced something I never expected: I’ve learned that life really isn’t about making the most of your time, but about making the most of everyone around you.