When you contemplate on death, and understand it to be the most predictable and inevitable aspect of your Life, you will start living instead of merely existing!
|The “Before I Die” Wall in Wallace Garden, Chennai;
outside Tuscana Pizzeria
This afternoon, while walking along Wallace Garden, in Chennai, we chanced upon a large, unique, black board outside the Tuscana Pizzeria. It had the words “Before I die” stenciled in a big font on it, followed by several “I want to _______________” prompts on it. Which is, anyone can write, what they want to do before they die, in the blank space opposite each “I want to” prompt. I filled the blank opposite my “I want to” prompt with “Live Fully!” My wife filled her blank with “Record a Song – Album!” Neither of us thought too much. We simply picked up the chalk piece provided beside the black board and shared our innermost feeling fluently. There was no holding back. And I believe that’s what’s most inspiring this idea – of expressing yourself freely, with absolute honesty, when you contemplate on death.
Death is not a bad idea. It is not a depressing thought. It actually is an empowering, inevitable reality. A truth that none of us can hide from or avoid. Candy Chang, a Taiwanese-American artist, is the inspiration and the force behind the “Before I die” movement. In 2011, after a period of intense grief and depression, which followed the loss of someone dear to her, she took the permission to paint the outer wall of an abandoned house in her neighborhood, with chalkboard paint and stenciled it with a grid of the sentence “Before I die I want to _______.” Anyone walking by could pick up a piece of chalk, reflect on their lives, and share their personal aspirations in public space. It was all an experiment and she didn’t know what to expect. By the next day, all 80 prompts were filled and responses spilled into the margins: “Before I die I want to… ‘sing for millions’, ‘plant a tree’, ‘hold her one more time’, ‘straddle the International Date Line’, ‘see my daughter graduate’, ‘eat more of everything’, ‘abandon all insecurities’, ‘be completely myself’…” People’s responses made her laugh out loud and tear up. They consoled her during hard times. She understood her neighbors in new and enlightening ways, and the wall reminded her that she’s not alone as she tries to make sense of her Life.
After posting a few photos, she received hundreds of messages from people who wanted to make a wall with their community. She created a website with resources and now thanks to passionate people around the world, over 500 “Before I Die” walls have been created in over 30 languages and over 60 countries, including Kazakhstan, Portugal, Japan, Denmark, Iraq, Argentina, and South Africa. My wife and I, as is obvious, had stumbled upon the wall in Chennai. And let me confess, the experience has left me completely energized and enriched.
We must often take time to pause and reflect on our lives. The problem with today’s lifestyles is that everything is so simple – and is increasingly getting simpler, thanks to technology – yet our lives remain more complex and complicated than ever before. Despite email, no one really responds or reaches out to others. Sharing has been reduced to letting others know what inane stuff you have chanced upon on facebook. WhatsApp and text messaging provide instant gratification but no warmth. Everyone’s busier than ever before but no one knows where they are going. Sometimes it’s even difficult for people to know whether they are going or coming. Contemplating on death, therefore, is an important reflection point. In fact, it can also be theinflection point in your Life once you realize that you don’t have all the time here – on this planet – which you, unfortunately, still believe you have! The awakening moment is when you understand that you are speeding towards your death, albeit at a different speed compared to others! That’s when, you will wake up, you will throw out all that’s – or whoever is – unimportant in your Life. And that’s when you will start living meaningfully, purposefully and joyously! So, what are you waiting for? What do you want to do before you die? Answer that question now – and just go do it!
(PS: Content related to Candy Chang has been taken from her official website.)