Before I die I want to…how would you finish that sentence? Go to Hawaii? Climb a mountain? Reconnect with an estranged loved one? At first, I find this a chilling question, as if someone has told me exactly how much time I have left, and now it’s a race to do everything. Sometimes at work we underscore the value of keeping notes, and written procedures, “in case I’m hit by a bus,” or the more positive, “when I win the lottery” – detailed instructions we’d leave behind so others could carry on. For some reason, this is the first thing I think of when I contemplate death. Can my passwords be found? Will the bills get paid?
This soul searching was brought on by a TED talk. In New Orleans, artist Candy Chang painted an abandoned house with chalkboard paint and encouraged passers-by to complete the statement “Before I die I want to …” Neighbors quickly engaged with this public art project by covering the house with their answers. The project has spread to other cities around the world, showing that people have an answer to this question when prompted, at least some idea of an act important enough to possibly be their last.
So what would I put in the blank? Maybe I’m afraid to articulate the things I wish I made time for, but don’t. Things that are surely more cosmically important than my day-to-day. Maybe I don’t really know what matters to me? Or I haven’t allowed myself to think there’s something missing in my life. Or just having the time to do something fun and frivolous. Picking one thing is hard, but a bucket list of multiple things, in no particular order seems a little easier.
Before I die I want to…
– sing karaoke
– visit the lower 48 states by car
– create a detailed family tree
– take my nephews on a trip
– wear a fancy gown to a black-tie event
That wasn’t so hard. What we want to do before we die shouldn’t be a last ditch, end-of-life question. It should be the question we ask everyday. Make each day worth living, do things that make you happy, proud, satisfied. Be able to look back and say, I treated people well, I tried my best, I had some fun. Then when the end comes, no regrets.