Bucket List

I have one big list, but it fills two buckets.

In one bucket I carry those aspirations to one day be a mother of the bride or groom, to rock my grandchildren to quiet slumber, and to show the world that gray hair and wrinkles do not stop us from holding hands and kissing in the parking lot. 

In the other I simply haul happiness. A lot makes me happy these days, but I try not to carry it all at one time. If the bucket feels too heavy, I start giving some of it away.

For me, a recent cancer diagnosis, particularly one that doesn’t yet have a cure and has the survival rate of a coin toss, filled my buckets real fast. I poured prayer into one of them and dreamed dreams about the other. 

I have a book to write. The task kept me awake during a dark abyss following my diagnosis last year because some stories are just too good to end with us. It’s a story of kindness and goodness and gentleness, but most of all it’s about love, and well, we all need more of that.

I want to see the ocean view from Hemingway’s Key West. I want a glimpse of his typewriter, breathe in all of its whispers, and enjoy a good drink in the shade. 

I’d pass up Disney any day to take my kids to Yellowstone. Its mystical and magical landscapes of jewel-toned hotsprings, buffalo and snowcapped mountains are needed in a world where Dollar Generals sit at every street corner.

Learning that I can no longer give blood or donate organs has led me to the realization that there is one part of my body that I can still give away…my hair. I’m growing my hair out, so this year when I begin to have really bad hair days, please look upon me and have compassion. I’m on a mission.

Yet recently I learned all too well that buckets sometimes spill all over the place and we are left to mop up the mess. Ones filled with happiness are no exception.

Topping off my “dream” bucket was to return to the Mother Church in Nashville, the beloved Ryman Auditorium. My husband, Kip, and I had our own holy moment there several years ago when we found ourselves being the only ones among the pews early one Saturday morning. A kaleidoscope of light danced through the glass windows. I thought about the deep roots of some of my favorite music that were planted right there underneath my feet. I traced my fingers along the curvature of the front pews and couldn’t help but look around the room and note every detail. I just wanted to sit and hear the music in the quiet spaces. I knew right then and there that I must return and I knew exactly whom I would want to be standing at the mic.

I read somewhere recently that music is what feelings sound like, and Sturgill Simpson certainly has given sound to my full emotional catalog, especially now that I live life three months at a time.  

I don’t just listen, I accompany him on every song. My vocals are strongest behind the steering wheel of my Suburban or maybe it’s in the glass enclosure of our bathroom shower. But his lyrics are best felt as they play in my head when the needle goes in my arm and I get pushed through the MRI tunnel with eyes closed tight.

Honestly I’d listen to him sing the phone book while strumming a cereal box guitar, and it would make me happy.

These tunes, every single shade of Sturgill Simpson, are the ones I play in my head when those horrible, terrible, no-good thoughts start to take over. Second only to my conversations with God, I rely on them to flip the switch that calms my fears. They have never failed me. Similar to my own kids, I could never pick a favorite.

Which leads me back to the bucket. 

As if God knew just what I needed when I needed it most…I learned that Sturgill was coming to town. 

New bluegrass. Three locations. Three nights. Each less than a  two-hour drive.  

Kip and I had seen him several times before, but this time it felt different.  An uncertain future can make a lot of inane things seem almost urgent.

So I scooped up third-row, center-stage tickets in Charlotte and danced my best happy dance for days. Friends galore called, texted, and messaged to make sure I had tickets to a show. They know me well.

And as if this wasn’t enough to color my rainbow, Sturgill soon announced a three-night run at the Ryman, the Mother Church, THE sanctuary that I had placed at the top of my bucket list. While Kip thought we would be sitting in the balcony, I secretly bought front pew seats and planned to surprise him for our 25th Wedding Anniversary. Life was just too short not to.

I had it all planned out in my head. As Kip would begin the ascent to the balcony seating, I would instead take his hand and lead him to the front, just where I had sat in the quiet of that morning a few years back. We were going to hear that voice of velvet, his guitar, and a whole menagerie of heartstring picking at its finest. Somehow those horrible, terrible, no good thoughts that had shadowed my world were beginning to fade.

I had two buckets full.

But I still had to count down the days to Charlotte first.  The seats were awesomely good.  Kip said they were the best seats he had ever had at a concert, which made me even more excited as I imagined the seats we would be sitting in a few short weeks later. 

And then the bucket tipped over. 

Just a few minutes before Sturgill was to take the stage, it was announced that he had to cancel his performance. 

I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak. I just remember the fear in Kip’s eyes as he looked into mine not knowing if I was going to crumble into a million pieces right there in front of God and Willie Nelson. Kip hugged me tight, enough to keep the barrage of tears at bay, and I simply said “At least we have the Ryman.”

Later that week, the bucket was crushed.

Sturgill shared that he had hemorrhaged his vocal cords and was canceling what was left of his tour. It was a late Friday afternoon when Kip came home and watched me melt into tears as I told him about the gift that I had planned to give him.  

It was messy. I wasted no time peeling back the layers of wanting to share that front pew with him as it had been at the top of my bucket list. I was scared I would never get another chance. I wanted to go outside and kick that damn bucket down the creek myself.  The tears were more about facing the next scan, the statistics, the unknown and less about Sturgill and the Ryman.

Kip again held me close, enough to keep me from crumbling into a million pieces right there in front of God, our seven kids and Bobo the dog.  It was his most beautiful way of getting on his hands and knees and helping me mop up the mess that had really only spilled inside of me.   

There were a few others who picked up the bucket, put it back in my hands and squeezed hope back into it. A generous offer of concert tickets, a Sturgill t-shirt, and many confident reassurances that maybe, just maybe, one day I might have that front pew at the Ryman with Sturgill at the mic.

Hopefully Stu is on his way towards healing.  I know I am.  Maybe buckets were meant to be shaken and spilled every now and then to make room for even better things to happen.  Maybe I wasn’t as OK as I seemed on the outside.  Maybe I needed to spill some of what I was holding in to move into a better space.

Hopes and dreams can change in the blink of an eye, but what I have learned is at the end of the day, when all seems amiss in the world, surrounding yourself with the people who will be there to love you through it all is what really fills your bucket.

So this evening that was supposed to find me in Nashville, TN strumming my heartstrings, finds me listening to vinyl instead and that’s okay. I’ll sing a little louder.

I’ll even lift a little prayer for Sturgill’s vocal cords. In my opinion there simply isn’t enough honey in the world. 

As for me, I’m still loving this cancer away one bucket at a time, but as long as Kip is beside me, maybe I really don’t need a bucket at all.

10 thoughts on “Bucket List

  1. Paula!!! I did not know about Sturgill’s cancellation! I’m so sorry. You’ve been dreaming and planning for months. Keep spinning that album, singing, and loving—he’ll be back before you know it.


  2. A perfect metaphoric story of loving all the scary, disappointing and heart wrenching parts of life away. Happy almost anniversary of one of the many good parts.


  3. Thank you for sharing your heart! Your thoughts cause me to re-examine my priorities and my life. Please don’t ever stop writing!
    Barry Amburn, CPA
    Cannon & Company, LLP
    Sent from my mobile device


  4. Paula, here’s to filling the bucket full of inspiration again! With Kip, your family and friends beside you, may it once again overflow with hopes, dreams and be sure to soak up the “good stuff” it happens every single day! May you and Sturgil heal to be together again in front seats at the Roman, this time not only in your dreams! I love you and your words!


  5. Paula – You have such a wonderful gift of expressing your feelings and thoughts through the power of words. I hope that your disappointments yield even greater rewards down the road


  6. Wow! What a heart! What a love story. Thank you for sharing your precious heart & love with us. Praying for you my dear friend!


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