What do you want to do before you die?

Four Vancouverites are completing their list of

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Skydiving - before you die

What do you want to do before you die?

Last year, this question prompted four young Vancouverites to start crossing goals off their “things to do before I die list” now rather than waiting until their golden years to tackle their dreams.

The group " Jonnie Penn, Duncan Penn, Dave Lingwood, and Ben Nemtin " dubbed its documentary project “The Buried Life,” after a Matthew Arnold poem describing the burying effect of our day-to-day lives, which can make people lose sight of their dreams.

“[The Buried Life] began last February through a series of spontaneous events that, I should say, were serendipitous,” says Jonnie Penn, a history and English student at McGill University.

“Four people came together... realizing we all felt the same way about the world and we wanted to work together and see how we could learn more and address the problems we saw in society.”

Penn says the group planned and saved for seven months before embarking on a three-week trip last summer with a camera and an RV. The four men wanted to accomplish 50 of their own goals and help 50 people accomplish theirs; they checked 32 items off their own list and helped 24 people along the way.

The group’s list has grown to 100 goals, including opening the six o’clock news (No.1, completed), becoming a boy scout (No.15, completed), buying a stranger’s groceries (No.34) and strutting the runway at a fashion show (No.69).

The Buried Life spawned from two opposing views of today’s youth. Penn thinks today’s youth is either portrayed as fat, lazy people involved in gangs and using drugs or as tremendously successful people winning scholarships and starting NGOs.

“[Our fear was] that these kind of polar opposites stigmatize kids to think if you’re not some success story, you haven’t gone to college and done everything you are supposed to do, you’re a failure,” Penn says.

“What we wanted to do is go out there and say, ‘If you didn’t go to university or you didn’t get a scholarship or you don’t own your own car, that doesn’t make you a failure.’”

The Buried Life’s main mantra is anyone can do anything and nothing is out of reach.

“[The Buried Life] is a philosophy, a mindset, that says you can do anything,” Penn says.

“One of my friends actually put it very well: you can’t see your dreams when all you are looking at are the obstacles, which sounds really cheesy, but it’s true.

“What is really important in your own life comes out of the question, the very provocative question, ‘What do you want to do before you die?’”

The four men feel asking this question forces people to look deep into their souls and decide what’s important in life, so they posed it to people they met during their cross-country travels.

The media and public have embraced the group’s project. It has received numerous phone calls and e-mails from people offering to help them complete their list.

“I think the whole philosophy has been embraced because it lets people return to a slower, healthier kind of lifestyle that is based on what is important and not what is superficial,” Penn says.

“We have been able to learn so much because people have been so welcoming to the idea and that has really encouraged us to keep moving and to pay it forward. It is [through] working together that we get these things done.”

Penn recalls meeting a man named Brent five days into their trip. Penn says his life changed when he saw how easily one can make a difference in someone’s life. Brent wanted to start a homeless shelter and give back to the people who helped get him off the street.

“[Brent] told us he needed a truck [to start the shelter] and there was no other answer " we had to get him a truck,” Penn says. “That is what had to happen and none of us expected we wouldn’t do it or that we couldn’t do it, because we learned if you can [fulfill] your own dreams, surely you can help other people achieve theirs.”

With a little help from the community, they obtained a truck for Brent.

“The reason it worked is because we had the opportunity to be the facilitators of generosity,” Penn says.

“We were letting people have the opportunity [to help by] saying ‘Here’s your shot. You’ve got a chance to change someone’s life here.’”

Penn says everyone should write their own list, because having your dreams on paper keeps them on your mind. However, he also emphasizes the importance of helping others achieve their goals.

“I promise you, [helping others is] the most satisfying thing you will ever do. It puts things in perspective and makes you get through the harsh day-to-day stuff and really realize what you should be doing and what you can do to help other people.”

The Buried Life’s crew is still striving to complete its goals and plans to drive around North America this year helping people and crossing more items off its list.

The Buried Life

To learn more about The Buried Life, visit www.theburiedlife.com.

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