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Blue Smoke, Black Ice and a Bucket List

January 17th, 2010 by Michael Dyet

Hmmm, did the couple riding in that taxi doing 100 clicks an hour northbound on Highway 427 know it was spewing a streamer of blue smoke out the tailpipe?

On a typical, bone-chilling January day, when car exhaust crystallizes in the air, I wouldn’t have given that taxi a second thought. But, on this unusually balmy day, I did a double take when I saw that smoke tail. It was clear that the engine hadn’t been serviced in some time. I couldn’t help but wonder if the brakes had been ignored as well.

It was one of those wake-up calls we get from time to time reminding us that our fate is not always in our own hands. A relative of mine had a heart wrenching dose of that reality a few days ago. Her daughter hit an ice patch on the drive home from work, lost control and went off the road. Hours later this 20 year old died on the operating table. A terrible, tragic event whose shock waves will never entirely fade away.

At sobering times like these that popular philosophical question comes to mind: What would you do if you knew you were going to die in a very short period of time? Would you make a “bucket list” and do everything on it a la Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman? Would go sky diving and Rock Mountain climbing like the popular Tim McGraw song advocates?

Pop philosophy tells us to “live every day as if it was the last day of your life”. Sounds good in principle. Theoretically you’ll have no regrets if your demise comes suddenly. But in the real world that’s not particularly practical. The business of living, and meeting your day to day responsibilities, seldom allows us the leisure to act in that manner.

My take on the situation is admittedly less inspirational but, I would argue, a bit more doable. When my time comes, there are two questions I hope I can honestly answer “yes” to. Here’s the first one.

Was I on the up side of the plus/minus equation? This concept comes from the game of hockey. It’s the difference between the number of goals your team scores while you are on the ice (plus) versus the number of goals scored against your team while you are on the ice (minus). If you’re total is on the plus side, you’re a good, two-way player.

I attempt to live my live in such a way that the amount I give back to society (plus) is higher than what I take out of it (minus). Mind you, I have no illusions of sainthood. A score of plus 3 or 4 works for me.

If I were to make a “Bucket List”, it would likely include spending a month in the rain forest in Costa Rica watching birds, butterflies and dragonflies. But that may not come to be. I won’t consider my life a failure if I don’t get there.

The more important question to me is: In the final tally, was I true to myself? Did I live by the principles I believe in? Did I understand and accept who I am and take the path that pointed me to? Quite honestly, that choice may make my life a bit tougher with less tangible rewards. But at the end of the day – and at the end of my life – that’s the measure I choose for myself.

That taxi cruising down the 427 with a smoke belching engine – and maybe brakes worn down to the rotors – is a metaphor for the unpredictable nature of life. We are all potentially just a patch of black ice or a single, negligent act away from having our ticket punched prematurely.

I’ll consider myself fortunate if the Costa Rica trip is under my belt when my time comes premature or otherwise. But I’m more concerned about a favourable plus/minus score and the assurance that I took the path that was meant for me.

What is your path? Are you on it? If not, it may be time to stop and recalibrate. Life is short and unpredictable… and there’s no second chance once the curtain comes down.

~ Michael Robert Dyet is the author of “Until the Deep Water Stills – An Internet-enhanced Novel”. Visit Michael’s website at or the novel online companion at

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