In her New Orleans neighborhood, artist and TED Fellow Candy Chang turned an abandoned house into a giant chalkboard asking a fill-in-the-blank question: “Before I die I want to ___.” Her neighbors’ answers — surprising, poignant, funny — became an unexpected mirror for the community. (What’s your answer?) She is the author of Before I Die.
In 2009, I lost someone I loved very much. Her name was Joan, and she was a mother to me. And her death was sudden and unexpected. And I thought about death a lot.And … this made me feel deep gratitude for the time I’ve had. And … brought clarity to the things that are meaningful to my life now. But I struggle to maintain this perspective in my daily life. I feel like it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, and forget what really matters to you.
So with help from old and new friends, I turned the side of this abandoned house into a giant chalkboard, and stenciled it with a fill-in-the-blank sentence: “Before I die, I want to …” So anyone walking by can pick up a piece of chalk, reflect on their life, and share their personal aspirations in public space.
I didn’t know what to expect from this experiment, but by the next day, the wall was entirely filled out, and it kept growing. And I’d like to share a few things that people wrote on this wall.
“…I wanto be tried for piracy.”
“…I want to straddle the International Dateline.”
“…I want to sing for millions.”
“…I want to plant a tree.”
“…I want to live off the grid.”
“…I want to hold her one more time.”
“…I want to be someone’s cavalry.”
“…I want to be completely myself.”
Two of the most valuable things we have are time and our relationships with other people.
In our age of increasing distractions, it’s more important than ever to find ways to maintain perspective, and remember that life is brief and tender. Death is something that we’re often discouraged to talk about, or even think about, but I’ve realized that preparing for death is one of the most empowering things you can do. Thinking about death clarifies your life.
Our shared spaces can better reflect what matters to us, as individuals and as a community, and with more ways to share our hopes, fears and stories, the people around us can not only help us make better places, they can help us lead better lives.