It's inevitable. Someday, your time on earth will end. Before you die, what do you want to accomplish? Kenny Chesney wanted to take his grandma on her first airplane ride. Oprah wants to visit the Egyptian pyramids and become a teacher.
In 2006, four friends from Canada gave this question some serious thought. Duncan Penn, Ben Nemtin, Jonnie Penn and Dave Lingwood sat down and made a list of 100 things they wanted to do before they die. Then, they set out in a beat-up purple bus—affectionately called "Penelope"—and began crossing things off the list, one dream at a time.
"We just kind of felt restless, like we wanted to do something," Ben says. "We got a camper ... and hit the road for two weeks one summer and started filming."
Number 53 on their list was "make a TV show," so when MTV came calling, these 20-something friends became the stars of their own reality show, The Buried Life. During Season 1, cameras followed along as they crisscrossed the country and completed outrageous feats.
In Dallas, Ben gave a toast at a stranger's wedding, and in Los Angeles, they entered a dance contest. Then, Duncan accomplished number 18 by telling a joke on late-night TV.
In Memphis, they even found a woman who was willing to help them cross off number 74—help deliver a baby!
It may sound dark and twisted, but Jonnie says the project's title—The Buried Life—was inspired by an enlightening poem.
"We were all in college ... feeling disillusioned with ourselves and with the world, and this poem came along that was assigned to me in English class," Jonnie says. "Usually, I don't read the poems assigned to me, but this one seemed poignant. I read it, and there were these four lines that just struck us."
More than 150 years ago, a poet named Matthew Arnold wrote the words that inspired these young men: "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."
"It hit us. It hit us so deep," Jonnie says. "You have things you're almost told to do, but sometimes, those things and all the things that go on in your life can bury you. You can feel like the whole world is on top of you. We wanted to dig through that and live our buried lives. ... We thought of looking at life as a finite resource and something worth celebrating."
During their travels, Duncan, Ben, Jonnie and Dave don't just cross things off their list...they also help strangers realize their dreams.
While in Chicago, they go in search of someone who needs a little inspiration and meet Tameka, a mother of two serving up ice cream at Ben & Jerry's.
Tameka tells them her dream is to get over her debilitating fear of heights. This fear is so powerful, Tameka says she's never gone above the 16th floor of any building. "I have bubbles in my stomach when I go high," she says. "Over the 10th floor, I can't go. I'm really scared."
After some convincing, Tameka accompanies Duncan, Ben, Jonnie and Dave to the third tallest building in the world, the Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower). She gets in the elevator, and they ascend to the 103rd floor. "At first, Tameka didn't even want to get off the elevator," Ben says. "Our goal was to get Tameka to walk on the sky deck, a hanging glass window more than 1,000 feet in the air."
One hour later, Tameka finally steps on the glass overhang. "Doing the things on our list is amazing and really cool, but it's one thing to enter a stranger's life," Dave says. "It's so lasting, because you create a relationship with them."
Some items on Duncan, Ben, Jonnie and Dave's list are easy to accomplish, like plant a tree or get a tattoo. But number 95—play ball with President Barack Obama—posed some challenges.
During their first attempt, they met with senators and secretaries in Washington, D.C., who tried to help them, but in the end, President Obama's assistant, Reggie Love, told them it wasn't going to happen. "It was upsetting, but we said we're going to continue on," Dave says.
Then, in March 2010, they got an invitation to return to Washington, D.C., and visit the White House. But first, they had to stop at a formal wear retailer to rent suits. "We looked like waiters or something," Jonnie says.
When they arrived, Reggie took them to see the presidential courts but said President Obama wouldn't be joining them. "Then all of a sudden he goes, 'Oh, I think we have company.' And Barack Obama walks from the other side of the court—the president of the United States," Dave says. "And he says: 'Oh, hey guys. I heard you guys were in town. I'd love to shoot some hoops with you. I'm a pretty busy guy, but I can shoot some baskets.'"
For 10 minutes, Duncan, Ben, Jonnie and Dave played hoops with the president. Number 95? Check!