The wall pictured above is in downtown Louisville. On a chalkboard wall, you are invited to complete the sentence: “Before I die, I want to . .” Like many pieces of art that invite public participation, the responses are sometimes poignant, sometimes ridiculous, but never boring. There, for all the world to see, is a chance to express your hidden longing. For a time, at least.
It is often a few weeks between times when I walk past this wall, and often I notice that it has been erased and re-filled with brand new answers. This startled me at first. I came back to the wall expecting to see the little words that I had written on my first (or second?) day in my new hometown still written there. But my words were gone. Filled in by a new longing from some other human.
I think, write, and often live in metaphors. So this, too, quickly became a metaphor for me. This wall, this sturdy and permanent-seeming installation is actually a daily exercise of impermanence. You write your desires in chalk, that fragile medium that can be easily wiped away with any hand or washed off with the slightest rain. The idea itself invites us to acknowledge impermanence. Before I die. Before. Meaning that time may seem long, but it is not endless. There is a precious window where we get to express and exercise our desires and ambitions. Do it now.
This metaphor completely changed my experience of seeing my words disappear. It made my own longing more real, more precious, and more likely something I would act towards. The inevitable end makes me want to be and do more in the present moment. So, ultimately, for me, chalk was the perfect medium to express myself. Before I die, I want to . . .
I am fortunate to be in this place and to know people who are thinking about the end of life in a very deliberative way. In just a few days, there is the opportunity to think and talk about what we value and how to express that by making our plans for the end. The Before I Die Festival Symposium is November 4th. I’ll be there, uncovering my hopes and desires for the inevitable end. Join me?