Intern Diaries: The Bucket List

July 3, 2012 |  by  |  Blog  |  Share
“I’m much older than the people in class,” she said with a frail voice and tears forming in her eyes, “so I very much want to do this list.”

Atsuko-san is one of the Japanese students in my English class. Her daughters are now grown-up and starting their own families. Her husband passed away many years ago, so her two cats keep her company in her modest home. She owns a clothing shop in Shiroishi, a small city sandwiched in between mountains and rice fields. For a petite 70-year-old woman, she’s got sensational style donning classy button-ups and jewelry to match.

 It was our last English class together and I centered our lesson on the film, “The Bucket List”. If you’re unfamiliar with this movie, it’s about two terminally ill friends, Edward and Carter (Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, respectively) who go on a journey together to complete a wish list of to-do’s before they die.

After introducing my students to the phrase “bucket list” and watching a few clips of the movie, I asked each of them to compile their own list. I walked around the class glancing over each student’s paper as they worked. I was excited to have them share their goals and dreams with me. It’s not often I get to pick a Japanese person’s brain and hear about their deepest desires. One by one, my students read their list to the class: Before I die, I want to… visit Tokyo Disney, go to Paris, see all of the natural wonders of the world, start a family, climb Mount Fuji, read a hundred books…

 Finally, it was Atsuko-san’s turn. With wide eyes, she looked down at her paper, hands shaking, smile forming, and with a gentle voice read, “I want to go to Tokyo, visit my daughters, hug my cats, and live a happy life until I meet my husband again.” It was refreshing to see her come alive when she spoke of her hopes and dreams, even as simple as they seemed.

 I really wanted to impress upon my students that there is so much more to life than the regular 9-5 grind, which the Japanese culture is very much focused on. I wanted them to conjure up dreams that they had never even thought of before, explore the world outside of Japan, and think of big, hairy audacious goals.

 Instead, Atsuko-san reminded me to keep my own simple dreams alive – to visit home, delight in my family, hug my puppy, and live a contented life with my husband. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t dream big at all. I certainly have huge items I don’t intend to ever remove from my list (chill with a panda, visit every continent, hold a career that makes some kind of good and tangible change in the world, to name a few). But perhaps on our climb to satisfying our most daring aspirations, we need to keep hold of the basics, remember where we started, and cherish what we have.


“Most of the critical things in life, which become the starting points for human destiny, are little things.” – R. Smith

 “Enjoy little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” – Robert Brault


  1. Dennise,
    Sounds like you are having such a good time at where you are at the moment, accomplishing so much with what you are doing, even fulfilling to achieve one of your items in your own bucket list. Thank you so much for sharing with us this beautiful story with your student, allowing us to get even just a glimpse of your life out there, making us feel so proud of your accomplishment, of who you became in your life, at your young age. Keep it up, continue to ‘ Let your light shine before you, that they see see your good works, and glorify your Father, who is in Heaven’. ‘ Always trust in the Lord, with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy way ways, acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy path’. Mahalo! Tita Beth (fr. Va)

  2. To be able to every blessing, big or small, is a gift from God!

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