After Candy lost someone she crazily loved, she went through a long period of grief and depression. With time she felt gratitude for the time they had together and eventually she found a clarity in her life by contemplating death so much. But she struggled to maintain this perspective. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget what really matters to you. She wanted a daily reminder and she wanted to know what was important to the people around her. So with help from old and new friends, she painted the side of an abandoned house in her neighborhood in New Orleans 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, the wall was completely filled out and it kept growing: Before I die I want to… sing for millions, hold her one more time, straddle the International Date Line, see my daughter graduate, eat more everything, abandon all insecurities, plant a tree, follow my childhood dream, be completely myself… People’s responses made her laugh out loud and tear up. They consoled her during her toughest 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 receiving many requests, she created a toolkit to help people make a wall with their community. You can also download all files for free to create your own stencils. Thanks to passionate people around the world, over 400 Before I Die walls have now been created in over 25 languages and over 60 countries, including Kazakhstan, Portugal, Japan, Denmark, Iraq, Argentina, and South Africa. They have been a constant source of inspiration and therapy for Candy.
Each wall is unique and reflects the people of that community. Each wall is a tribute to living an examined life. Regularly contemplating death, as Stoics and other philosophers encourage, is a powerful tool to restore perspective and remind us of the things that make our lives meaningful. Our pubic spaces are our shared spaces and at their greatest, they can help us make sense of the beauty and tragedy of life with the people around us.
The new Before I Die book, published by St. Martin’s Press, is a celebration of these walls and the stories behind them. Filled with our hopes, fears, humor, and heartbreak, and printed in a beautiful, full-color, hardbound edition, it’s a reminder of our shared connections and a chance to contemplate life’s ultimate question. Publishers Weekly called it, “a powerful and valuable reminder that life is for the living, and that it’s never too late, or too early, to join in the party.”