The Reverse Bucket List

By Todd Shotz

Quarantine Lag B'omer
This month in the Hebrew calendar is called Elul. Elul’s claim-to-fame is that it is the month before the High Holy Days. During Elul, we have time to reflect on the past year and to prepare for the new year ahead. Rabbi Yael Ridberg has said, “It is easy to let the summer months come to an end, return to work or school and the yearly routine, and then be unprepared when Rosh Hashanah comes. We often describe the holidays as coming ‘early’ or ‘late,’ when really they come exactly on time, and it is we who need to be ready.”

Elul marks the precipice of a new beginning. During this time, we are encouraged to begin the process of Cheshbon Hanafesh (literally, accounting of the soul). Yet, the accounting of the soul can feel like a lofty goal and hard to access. We find ourselves asking this question – “Where do I begin?”

Every year, as I sit in the many hours of High Holy Day services, I find myself taking stock of what has happened in the past year and making a list in my head of what I want to do going forward.  Thinking about what I have done, always makes me think of what I haven’t done. If Yom Kippur is supposed to be a rehearsal for our death (a concept that has always sounded morbid to me), this could be like a “bucket list” — a list of things to do before we “kick the bucket.”

In this time of pandemic, many of us are feeling a heightened sense of our mortality as well as a sense of inactivity since we aren’t able to do what we want to do. It is hard to make a bucket list now when we have so little sense of the future. Yet if we go back to the idea of cheshbon hanefesh and taking stock of our lives, maybe we should consider the idea of “The Reverse Bucket List”– which I have read has multiple meanings. I learned that it could be a list of all of the things you would never do in your life. For me, my list would include never getting a tattoo, never owning a snake and never skydiving. I mean… Why would I jump out of a perfectly good airplane?

But more in the spirit of Elul, I prefer to think of the “Reverse Bucket List” as a chance to look back at what we have done, what we have accomplished this past year. Rather than writing down all of the things you hope to one day achieve, write down a list of all the things you’ve already done — things that make you feel proud, things that you want to remember that you achieved this past year. It is my hope that everyone can make a list that inspires them for the future and serves as an exercise in gratitude.

Todd Shotz is the Founder and Executive Director of Hebrew Helpers.

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