Want a better life? Try a bucket list
Shirley Bachelder’s bucket list has ballooned into a lifetime of adventures and celebrations.
She celebrated her 95th birthday on April 3, 2016 with her Sunday school class at Christ United Methodist Church near Nashville, Tenn. Billboards now show her image at spots around her hometown with a message she says God asked her to share: Love one another.
We first wrote about Shirley in November 2014, when the 93-year-old made her way to a remote Tennessee field at 5:45 a.m. in 27-degree weather. There she swung her short legs into a wicker gondola to take a hot air balloon ride, a testament to her spunk. With a delicate silk flower garland worn atop her woolen hat, this whippersnapper checked another item off her bucket list.
“I would have gone up in that balloon even if it was below zero,” she said. “All I needed was a couple pairs of gloves, my Egg McMuffin and a cup of coffee and I was ready to go.”
Was the sunrise balloon flight to Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee a dream come true for the California transplant?
“God was there,” she said. “I felt so close to him and felt him saying, 'Well, what do you think Shirley?'”
When fellow Christ United Methodist Church member Allen Johnston discovered Miss Shirley had “hot air balloon ride” still unchecked on her bucket list, he conspired with his Sunday school class to make the aerial adventure happen. On Nov. 3, Miss Shirley, in the company of another 90-something church member, lifted up, up and away.
“Shirley always has a great story,” Johnston said. “She’s so happy in her life. She’s just contagious!”
At Shirley’s 80th birthday she looked around the purple-decked room (purple is a signature color for Shirley) and counted her blessings. She wanted to find a way to honor God. Ever since she’s worn a flower “gratitude garland” in her hair—even on her hot air balloon ride! Some people call it her “halo.”
“I told God, ‘I will celebrate every day with you and thank you each day for everything.’”
Christ UMC friends will continue helping Miss Shirley fulfill her bucket of wishes: taking a trip to Ireland, becoming a contestant on Wheel of Fortune (she’s hoping to audition for a second time), visiting a butterfly house, and even sighting a bluebird in Tennessee.
“If you have a bucket list, it proves you’re still alive,” Shirley said. “People who have stopped looking forward to creative things have made up their minds to die. We all need some crazy scheme in mind to keep us excited, so we can face life with a lot of fun and love.”
Shirley started on her bucket list when she was just 9 years old, fascinated by stories her teachers told of faraway places and out-of-the-bucket ideas. Her bucket list has led her to do everything from going back to college at age 50 (graduating with honors at 60), publishing stories in Reader’s Digest, and sampling all kinds of foods. Ostrich…yummy. Buffalo…tasty. Whale…no thank you!
Not long ago, an acquaintance suggested she see a geriatric doctor who would likely tell her to slow down. But being put out to pasture is not on Miss Shirley’s bucket list.
“I’ve been to several geriatric doctors and none of them have ever told me to slow down,” she huffed and puffed. “Life is for the living and I won’t coast to the finish line!”
Free flying birds of a feather
The Reverend Beth Estock, a United Methodist elder turned church coach and consultant with the Epicenter Group, Portland, Oregon, shares Shirley’s spirit of adventure.
“I have a limited amount of life; a limited amount of time to enjoy what it means to be alive, to drink it all in, to live into the fullness God has called me to,” Beth said. “I don’t want to miss anything.”
Beth’s bucket list is no less exciting than Shirley’s. Her countdown includes a pilgrimage to Peruvian ruins in Machu Picchu, a spiritual journey to monasteries in Scotland’s Iona and a hike across Spain’s Camino de Santiago.
Bucket lists don’t have to be totally selfish, Beth said. “It’s not all about a $10,000 vacation, but it is about being open to co-creating our lives with God.”
“Instead of turning into walking zombies, how can we say ‘yes’ to the miracle of life that unfolds 24/7?” she asks. “We should be in awe and wonder constantly. This moment, and the next, and the next, is a gift from God.”
The greatest sin in life
Going for life’s gusto is a legacy Beth and her husband share with two spirited daughters, Sarah and Hannah.
“We always told our kids that the greatest sin in life is not living into the fullness of life that God calls us. God blesses us with gifts and talents. When we discover and embrace what those are, God can use us as vessels, and then we become a gift to the world.”
A bucket load on her bucket list!
Beth’s 21-year-old daughter, Hannah Petrillo, started her bucket list in the 7th grade. Originally, it included what she now calls “silly things” like “win a pie-eating contest,” “have tea with the Pope,” and “walk backwards for a day.” At last count though, her “do-one-day” list tallied 174 bucket-busting goals.
Now a student at Quest University, Squamish, Canada, Hannah seldom thinks small. “I got my love of adventure, and my curiosity from my mom,” she said. “She taught me to embrace life.”
When Hannah was 19 she worked four jobs to pay her way to Africa, item 30 on her bucket list. There she had the opportunity to check off item number 63 to change someone’s life, by spending three and a half months teaching First Aid to children in Uganda and volunteering at a United Methodist hospital in Kenya. Her medical background as an EMT, search and rescue volunteer, and lifeguard – 3 bucket list items she had previously completed – made it possible.
“Bucket lists,” Hannah said, “are a great way to see what is important to you.”
“People get caught up in mundane things,” she continued. “There are a lot of distractions that keep people from remembering that we’re only on Earth a short time. We need to use that time to love each other, help each other and be a community.”
*Susan Passi-Klaus is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Joe Iovino, UMC.org, at 615-312-3733.
Editor's note: Since originally publishing this story on January 28, 2015, we have learned that Shirley Bachelder sought to purchase 5 seconds of television advertising time to share an important message, WSMV in Nashville told her story in a special segment that included her 3-word message on screen for 5 seconds: "Love one another."