The 'Before I Die' Walls Are Appearing All Over The World

The aftermath of losing a loved one can represent an inflection point in a person’s life. Appointments, the stress of work, bills – it all gets swept under the rug in the corner of our grief-stricken psyche as we grapple with the loss, even as we make room for a deep, penetrating reexamination of what really matters.

A few years ago, artist Candy Chang once found herself in exactly that state after losing someone she loved. It was someone named Joan who’d been a kind of mother figure to her for years. In her grief, Chang thought about the things Joan had still wanted to do, like learn to play the piano and see the Pacific Ocean, among other things.

That grief eventually led to gratitude for the time they did have together. And that led Chang to ruminations on death and the way it clarifies life and purpose. She ultimately came out the other side of her mourning with a desire to have some sort of daily reminder of what’s most important.

Thus began her “Before I Die …” project.

The project started with Chang, who has a background in urban planning, getting permission to paint an abandoned house in her New Orleans neighborhood with chalkboard paint, upon which she stenciled a grid of the sentence “Before I die I want to ___”. The goal was for anyone walking by to take a piece of chalk, consider their lives and finish that sentence. That sentence got finished in a way Chang couldn’t have imagined.

The project took on, as they say, a life of its own.

More than 80 responses were added to that first wall. Participants wrote of singing for a crowd of millions, seeing a child graduate, abandoning their insecurities and more.

Posting photos of the project led Chang to get hundreds of messages from people who wanted to replicate that wall in their own cities. To date, more than 400 “Before I Die” walls have been created in more than 60 countries, and more are still on the way.

From December through January alone, “Before I Die” walls were built in countries including Venezuela, Australia and South Korea. Responses added to “Before I Die” walls around the world form a collective portrait of the aspirations of humanity, and in January some of those responses included:

“Before I die I want to be loved by my daughter-in-law.”

“Before I die I want to become an animator.”

“Before I die I want to understand the theory of relativity.”

“Before I die I want to swim in all five oceans.”

In November, two “Before I Die” walls were installed in Tehran. On one of them, someone wrote: “Before I die I want to become a ‘real’ business woman.”

Chang also recently published a book through St. Martin’s Press about the project.

“I've been receiving touching messages from people around the world who have seen their response featured in the new book,” Chang told Hooplaha. “One woman wrote, ‘Before I die I want to be in a healthy relationship for the sake of my daughter.’ She told me she left the man who hurt her and has never looked back. She inspires me to find the bravery to face some of my own struggles.

“The project continues to grow thanks to passionate people around the world. During the last month, walls were built in over 10 countries, including Venezuela, Slovakia, South Korea, Russia, and Armenia. They're a constant source of inspiration and therapy for me. I’ve learned I’m not the only one who feels like they’re barely keeping it together. Everyone's responses help stir my mind as I contemplate my life and what really nourishes me.”

And the “Before I Die” wall project marches on. Athens will be hosting the first wall in Greece in April. Several walls also will be created in Paris, as part of a campaign against drunk driving.

Explaining the project in her book, Chang writes: “In the end, the power of this project rests in the hands of the passerby who picks up a piece of chalk, pauses for a moment and writes something honest, poetic and occasionally heartbreaking … With more ways to share in public space, the people around us can not only help us make better places, they can help us become our best selves.”

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