Before I die I want to own a pig farm. Before I die I'll be successful in business. Before I die I will go to Europe. Before I die I want to help others discover what they want to do before they die.*
That last one is mine. Stumbling upon Chang's Before I Die installation in Philadelphia was one of the defining moments that helped me put into words what my life's goals are. Like Chang, I want to use personal loss and death as a focusing lens for my own goals and those of others. I don't think I need to argue here that mortality is humanity's greatest driver to achieve, accomplish, discover, grow. Yet it is so easy for us to get lost in the minutiae of the everyday and forget what are lives our about, and more importantly what we want them to be about. Before I Die functions as an affirmative memento mori- a reminder of death with a provocation to aspire and be inspired. Its effectiveness is marked by the numbers; over 1000 cities all over the world in over 70 countries boast a wall installation of their own filled with entries by countless unsolicited participants. Not surprisingly, the project itself is born out of death. Candy created its first incarnation in 2011, on the wall of an abandoned house in her New Orleans neighborhood, as a response to losing someone she loved.
And rituals can lead us to seeing the creative viability in everything around us."
His words ring true, but should not be dismissed as obvious. It is hard to be creative in the face of tragedy, but it is an invaluable coping and processing strategy. Pouring unexpressable pain into words, of language or of art, is sometimes the only way forward, especially in a time when public rituals of mourning are absent. "I want to create a space to get back to the big questions about life, death, grief and sorrow," Chang says.