Note: What began as a list of 100 items to do before you die, soon became the foundation for a documentary filmed to spread a clear message of hope for four Canadians. Six years ago, “The Buried Life” was created by Ben Nemtin, Duncan and Jonnie Penn, and Dave Lingwood during their college years at a time when each gentleman was facing life’s most testing obstacles. Realizing that they had the power to accomplish all of their list items with enough hard work, they set out in an old RV to follow their wildest dreams. In the process, they also made a pact to help a stranger cross off one of their list items for every list item of their own that they were able to accomplish.
If there’s one thing I’m proud of, it’s being able to tell good stories. Not because I’m a particularly good storyteller, but because I’ve been able to do some pretty cool things with my friends.
I’ve played b-ball with the President at the White House, made a TV show, crashed the Playboy Mansion, written a book, streaked a stadium, been on Oprah, thrown the first pitch at a Major League Baseball game, made the biggest roulette spin in Vegas history, delivered a baby, reunited a father and son after seventeen years, made a $300,000 donation to charity, helped a girl find her mother’s grave for the first time, and am trying to help a college freshman find a new kidney (I need your help on this one).
Five and a half years ago, I couldn’t tell any of these stories. It was 2006 when I first hit the road with my next-door neighbor, his younger brother, and a kid I knew from high school to accomplish the “100 Things to Do Before We Die” list.
This mission was only supposed to be a two-week road trip. The four of us never expected it to be much more, and we certainly didn’t expect to be living it five years later.
In the beginning, we didn’t tell our friends what we were doing because we didn’t know how to explain it. What we shared was really just a feeling: we were fed up and wanted something different.
We decided to move forward without a real plan. A mechanic told us that the RV we’d borrowed for our first road trip wasn’t going to make it home; I fabricated a wedding to get enough time off work; and we pretended we owned a production company to raise money for a camera and gas.
The only thing we knew for sure was that we would be taking two weeks off before we went back to college to try and accomplish as many items on our list as possible and help some people.
We didn’t have a name for the project until Jonnie was assigned a poem in English 102 called “The Buried Life.” It was written 150 years ago but spoke to the same feeling we were having at the time: the desire to unbury our lives and do the things that were important to us, not what was expected of us. There were four lines that stood out from the rest:
But often, in the world’s most crowded streets,
But often, in the din of strife,
There rises an unspeakable desire
After the knowledge of our buried life;
When I think back to this time now, I remember sitting on the curb beside our RV the night before we were supposed to leave, arguing about whether we should cancel the trip because if the camper broke down, we wouldn’t have enough money to tow it home. Five years later, I guess it’s safe to say we’ve gotten pretty good at accomplishing our dreams. I’d like to say we’re experts at it, that there’s something about us that makes us able to do these things, but the truth is the formula is quite simple. The more items we cross off our list, the more we become convinced that anyone can do anything.
For us, it just comes down to these six steps:
What is it that you really want to do with your life? Forget what you think you should do. What excites you? What feels impossible? Be honest with yourself. Your answers don’t need to make an impression on anyone but you.
For many people, us four members of The Buried Life included, the impetus to make a life change only comes with crisis. The summer before we started The Buried Life, I was struggling with depression; Dave was struggling with his weight; Duncan had lost a close friend; and Jonnie was just plain angry and disillusioned with our generation (“No one protests anymore,” he used to say). The four of us were so beaten down that we had almost no choice but to reevaluate what was important to us. Our project grew out of that frustration. Sometimes it takes a debilitating low or a crushing loss to snap you back to reality, but don’t wait for that. Ferris Bueller put it well, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”