January 21, 2010

Explore your own “buried life”

Posted in Between Us column, Relationships, Spirituality, Television at 12:32 am by dinaheng

What do you want to do before you die?

Most people get to that question when they’re in the midst of a mid-life crisis. But four Canadian college students started asking themselves that question four years ago, and the answers that came led to an inspirational new show on MTV.

“The Buried Life” shares the wacky adventures of four young men (Duncan, 26;  Ben, 25; Jonnie, 22 and Dave, 23) as they travel across North America to explore life and tackle the 100 things they’d like to do before they die. Along the way, for each item crossed off their list, the guys help a stranger to go after his or her dream as well.

“The four of us are from the same hometown, and were all going to college,” explains Jonnie Penn, a philosopher and filmmaker who began chronicling the guys’ activities on an Internet blog. “We felt we weren’t living life to the fullest, and the question of what do you want to do before you die came up.”

The four decided to create their own “Bucket List,” and help others by “paying it forward” as well. In 2009, MTV saw Penn’s work online and offered the group a show.

The show’s title, “The Buried Life,” was inspired by a poem by Matthew Arnold, written in 1852, that talks about a man’s restlessness and yearning for more in life.

As Arnold wrote:

“After the knowledge of our buried life…

A longing to inquire

Into the mystery of this heart which beats

So wild, so deep in us  — to know

Whence our lives come and where they go.”

“Our goal is to ask as many people as we can, ‘What do you want to do before you die?’ “ Penn says. “It’ll get people to come together because it makes people understand what’s really important in their lives.”

For example, the group met a young woman in Memphis who said she’d like to say good-bye to her mother, who died in Hurricane Katrina and was buried in Denver. Corky’s, a rib joint in Memphis, allowed the guys to come in and work for a day to raise enough money to buy the young woman a plane ticket to Denver.

When the group project first began, Penn and his brother Duncan planned six months in advance to travel for two weeks to work on their list, and to help others. Their father, a doctor, and mother, a nurse, thought they were a little crazy, but lent their support.

“We worked on oil fields, and with the  money we raised, we started the project and brought on sponsors,” Penn says. “We started doing this before the MTV show, and will continue to do it, and keep working on the list for the rest of our lives. Ten years from now, my list may include getting married, settling down and having kids.”

Penn say the group’s “to do” list is always evolving, but of the 100 items now on it, the guys have completed 65 to 70. For the eight episodes of the MTV show, the group chose eight of the hardest wishes on their list to achieve.

Included in those eight wishes were going to the Playboy mansion, helping to deliver a baby, making a toast at a stranger’s wedding, and playing basketball with President Barak Obama.

Penn notes, “I think it’s important to dare yourself to do thing you’re afraid of… Fuel ambition with patience, respect, and a keen eye, and you can do anything.”

To see how — and whether — the group achieves some of the things on their list, check out the next episode of “The Buried Life” on MTV, Monday, Feb. 1 at 10 p.m. Eastern. And if you’d like to share your own list, join the guys on http://www.theburiedlife.com.

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