In May, a graduating senior from my school presented me with a thank you card – with a letter inside. I appreciated the card so much – it’s rare that an 18 year old young man thanks you for the things that you did to help him through his school years. The letter was really something – it detailed his intention to embark on a Ulysses Bucketlist Quest…here are the details (NOTE: My student did not write this; he found it somewhere, and has used it as an inspiration for something that he wants to do):
When I was 15 years old, I ran away from home because I was pissed off at my parents for a reason I can’t remember. I didn’t have much money, so I decided to hop onto the skytrain(public transport train in British Columbia) and ride it as far as it would go. I reached the end of the line in less than an hour, and decided I wanted to ride it all the way back again, while trying to formulate some kind of plan of how I wanted to live the rest of my life without my parents or anyone. At the last stop, or the first stop depending on your perspective of it, a girl came on and sat in the row right behind me. I didn’t pay much attention to her at first, as I was busy writing my life plan on a napkin. It was a few minutes later that she got up and came sat next to me, curious as to what I was writing. I told her the story, and after a few laughs, we began talking about everything and anything. Her name was Amanda, 17 years old, and absolutely wonderful. She told me she was getting off at the last stop, which was also the first stop, depending on how you look at it. It was also the stop I had gotten on originally, and I told her we would ride to it together. The train ride took less than an hour, and what a wonderful hour indeed.
When the last stop did come, we both knew we probably wouldn’t see each other ever again(this was before the days of cellphones, and I was a shy little kid afraid to make moves). As we got to the end of the sidewalk which split in two different directions, she went right and I went left. Before saying goodbye she turned to me and asked me a question that has become a wonderful part of my life; she asked me, “Tell me something you have done, or want to do, that you think I should do? It can be anything, as challenging as you want it to be, or as easy. As long as you give me the rest of my life to complete it, I promise I will do it..” I was confused as to why, but I thought about it, and told her, “Sing a song acapella in a room full of strangers.” She said perfect and asked me if I would like a challenge as well. I told her I did, and she told me, “read, from start to finish, “Ulysses” by James Joyce.” I had never heard of it at the time, but I agreed, and we said our goodbyes.
I have a awful memory, and can’t remember most conversations I have with most people. But I remember all of that clearly. You know why? Because of the challenge she gave me. In the 12 years that have past since, I have tried to read that book in over 150 different sittings. Everytime I open my copy of the 780 page monster of a book, I always think of her, and I always think of that day. Ive never been sure if it was her intent or not, but she left her lasting memory on me with that challenge. I soon after learned what she did, was a completely wonderful and amazing thing for me. So I decided to keep it going. I’ve met a lot of strangers in my life; some that have become friends, and some, due to living in different time zones and whatnot, did not. I dont want to just have experiences and then let them go. I want to remember these meetings, and embrace the fact that they happened. So whenever I leave someone who has left an amazing impact of my life, I always make sure to add them to my Ulysses Bucket List. I ask them to give me a challenge, as difficult or as easy as they want it to be, and regardless of the fact that they have done it or not; simply something their heart has had wanted to do.
Some have been easy and fun; I met a man in India 9 years ago who told me to, for a week or a month, cook/buy twice as much food as I intend on eating, and give the other half to a stranger in need. I completed that mission 8 years ago, and thought about that man and the time we had all the way through. I met a girl on a cruise 6 years ago, who told me to jump into a body of water on a slightly cold day, without touching or feeling the temperature of the water first. I did that the very same year. I met a couple at an outdoor music festival a few years ago that told me to wear the most bizarre outfit imaginable and walk through a public place, completely oblivious to the fact that you aren’t looking normal. I did that task the very next day, at the same festival. Some have been difficult, to say the least: three guys I met in Amsterdam and smoked all night with, told me to go to a mall and give 10 strangers 10 presents. That one took a lot of courage, but I did it a year or so after I met them. It was nerve wracking, but at the same time exhilarating leaving my comfort zone. A girl I met on a plane told me to skydive; I’m still in the process of getting that done. A couple I met in Cali on the beach told me to tell the 5 people I hated the most, that I love them and respect them. That one was very difficult because of my stubbornness, but I’ve come close to completing that list many a times(still in the process, 2 more people to go).
And some things, have had an everlasting impact on my daily life. I met a girl at burning man, who told me that whenever I get mad at someone, walk away, sing my happy song in my head for 5 minutes, go back to the person I’m mad at with a calm heart and mind, and work things out. Ive made this my way of life. I once met a man at a gym in a hotel I was staying at, that told me “whenever your body and brain tells your that you are exhausted and done…use your heart instead and push out 2 more reps.” I’ve made this my motto when working out or working on any kind of strenuous exercise in which my body demands me to quit. I also use it while working on anything, and while studying. One of the best pieces of advice i’ve ever received.
There are many others that each brought joy to my life. There are still many tasks I have yet to accomplish, and every time I think of these tasks, I think of the people that gave them to me. It amazes me how well I remember all these people, while I can’t remember so many aspects of even yesterday. These experiences, not only do I take from them a “mission” or a “challenge”, I also take from them a memory of them that never fails to appear inside of my mind. I opened my Ulysses book for probably the 300th time yesterday, and read a few pages, which prompted me to share this story with you today. I’m in the final 30 pages of the book, also known as the most dreaded of the read(in the last 40 pages or so, James Joyce doesn’t use a single punctuation mark; no periods, no commas, no nothing; a straight 50 page run-on sentence).
I never saw Amanda after that day, nor do I know if she ever did get a chance to sing a song to a room full of strangers. But what I do know, is that she gave me a gift that has never once stopped giving. So wherever you may be, thank you for giving me the Ulysses Bucket List. And I swear I’ll finish it one day. My life advice? Simple: Create your own Ulysses bucket list.
Brilliant, right? I love this…and I loved the fact tht this wonderful young man asked most of his teachers for challenges, even though he was graduating, moving away to college far from home, and embarking on the crazy life challenge of starting over and building a new existence – he was asking the people who helped him in high school to help him move into the next phase of his life. Love that. He received a number of AMAZING challenges – and I was agonizing over what to pick. This is what I came up with:
Do 3 random acts of kindness for complete strangers…and take a picture that represents what you did. Send those pictures to me as you do each act. As I receive your pictures, I will in turn do something kind for a stranger, and I will send you pictures of what I did. 🙂
Here are some of the other challenges that he received from our faculty:
Travel across a whole country by train with only a backpack by yourself.
Document your generation and the changes they will bring. Document the difference of today from what will become in our tomorrow.
Do a literary “pub-crawl” across Ireland.
Unless you are ill or it is an emergency, attend every class in college. Don’t skip just to skip.
Continue to pursue your passion of documenting your life through pictures and film. You will love looking at them in years to come; so will family and friends.
Do something genuinely kind for someone you severely dislike. Put thought and effort into it.
Climb Mount Fuji.
Do something nice for someone else at the detriment of your own self. Do it out of kindness.
Go to a foreign country for at least a week with no itinerary. Ask people you meet where to go, what to see and where to eat. Only do those things.
Take a genuinely meaningful photo with your child (or children) on each of their birthdays. Make it one you would want to frame.
I love the randomness of this list – and I love it even more that the underlying themes are travel and kindnedss. Clearly there are some great peeps working around this place! Anyway – the most exciting thing happened last week – I GOT MY FIRST PICTURE AND LETTER FROM HIM!!! He did his first random act of kindness – here’s what he sent me:
Now that I’m in Boston and settled in to school, I’ve finally had the chance to start working on some of the challenges I’ve been given. I completed part of your challenge today.
In downtown Boston, particularly near my campus there are a fair amount of homeless people, and it’s common to have someone approach you asking for money. This has happened to me a lot in the past month or two and typically I have nothing that I can offer, but today a man asked me for a dollar for food. Even though I had cash I offered to buy him a meal from Dunkin Donuts if he would meet me there at 5:30. He seemed like a really nice and genuine person so I wanted to do something to help. I arrived at the Dunkin Donuts at 5:20 and stayed until 5:45. He never came over, but the whole time I was there I could see him across the street asking for more money and buying cigarettes. I am fairly certain he could see me too, so instead of buying a meal for him I bought a meal for another homeless man who was sitting outside the Dunkin Donuts I was waiting at. I’ve seen him around a lot in the past few weeks and he has never asked for money, but he looked like he could use the help.
I have included in this email a photo of the items listed on the receipt from today. I didn’t include the prices because I don’t think this about the money spent. I hope to work more on your challenge over the next week or two.
Thank you again for giving me a challenge, I hope to make doing nice things at random a recurring part of my life.
I love this so much, this whole thing just makes my heart so super fuzzy that I can hardly stand it. LOVE!!! 🙂 I am so pleased that he understood that he got the point, that this wasn’t about the money, and I’m happy that he knows what truly matters: doing nice things for those around us. Now…what shall my first act of kindness be???! :-)I’m open to suggestions! Let’s make kindness a movement, okay? 🙂
I LOVE THIS!!! 🙂