In the 1966-7 academic year, I was studying in a yeshiva in Israel and in the spring I had to have a hernia operation at Hadassah Hospital. I have vivid memories of the night before the operation. My roommate was scheduled for serious surgery and he said to me: “I wish I had what you have.” It was a statement that reverberated in my mind for many years. We never realize how blessed we are until we hear of the trials and travails of others.
People who are staying in a hospital tend to commiserate with one another simply because being ill in a health care facility can be a lonely experience. This is the opening scenario of The Bucket List, a touching narrative of two men from opposite sides of the track who share a common malady that brings them together in friendship.
Car mechanic Carter Chambers and billionaire hospital tycoon Edward Cole initially meet in the hospital after both have been diagnosed with terminal cancer. As they undergo their treatment, they share in brief their respective life stories and come to like one another. Carter is a family man, devoted to wife and children; Edward has been divorced four times and is estranged from his only daughter.
As they become increasingly aware of their mortality, Carter begins penning a “bucket list,” a list of things to do before the inevitable end. When he shares it with Edward, Edward offers to finance a trip for both of them that will enable Carter to do all the things on his bucket list and more. In spite of his wife’s protest, Carter agrees and they begin their around the world adventure, visiting tourist sites in China, India, and France among other places.
Towards the end of their trip, Carter realizes how much he misses his wife and decides to return home. Back in the States, we see Carter surrounded by a loving wife and children, and Edward alone in his luxurious apartment. It is clear that Carter’s life is more blessed because of his loving family.
Throughout the film, Carter expresses the wisdom of the ages. Early on in his relationship with Edward, he tells him of the two questions that a person is asked at the gateway to Heaven: Have you found joy in your life and has your life brought joy to others? He encourages Edward to find the joy in his life before it is too late.
Furthermore, Carter reminds Edward that “You measure yourself by the people who measure themselves by you.” The Ethics of the Fathers echo this idea when it tells us the right course for a man to follow is to choose a path that is a credit to him and that earns him respect from his fellow man.
These messages of healthy living resonate in Judaism. The Bible and the Talmudic Sages tell us to love other people, for when we love others we bring joy to our own lives. It makes us less self-centered and enables us to feel happiness in the accomplishments of others. God is overflowing with kindness and so should we be. The patriarch Abraham is the exemplar of the attribute of loving-kindness in Jewish tradition. When guests came to his home, he went to extraordinary efforts to make them feel important and welcome. He gave them a sumptuous meal even when he himself was recovering from his own circumcision in the heat of the day. The Ethics of the Fathers bluntly state: “If I am only for myself, what am I?” It is part of man’s mission to be concerned about all of God’s creatures. The Bucket List reminds us to live life to the fullest, to count our minutes, and to be generous to all men.