One Last Thing

‘Before I Die, I Want to
Evaporate Into the Light’

There’re many who believe that you get more out of life by compiling, and pursuing, a bucket list. An inventory of everything we’d like to do before we die is said to help us focus on what’s really important. Besides, putting wishes on writing makes them appear reachable, unlike so much else that life’s about.
Now, with her latest public project, artist Candy Chang gives a twist to the old concept: the single-line bucket list. Before I Die has been traveling the world for over a year, allowing common citizens of many nations to express at least one desire they’d like to fulfill before, well, it’s too late for anything else.
The simplicity and straightforwardness of the project resembles an open-air classroom, including the old-fashioned combo, the blackboard and a piece of chalk. Chang even lends a hand to curious minds and passer-by philosophers, adding the useful teaser, ‘I Want to…’ Their responses range from the immediate to the transcendental.
It’s actually easy to get caught on their apparent single mindedness. ‘I want to explore the world,’ or ‘tell mom I love her’ and variations, are some of the most common. Others try for the highfalutin and wind up faking it: ‘I want to embrace,’ ‘understand why I’m here,’ and this post’s own headline, can all be cringe-inducing.
But even if some sound prosaic or pretentious or hollow, it’s a completely different experience when you have to add your own contribution. That’s what Brazilians may be considering now, as the project hits the streets of São Paulo. Before, it’s been to some 50 cities in the world, practically covering all continents.

It all started, according to Chang, with the loss of someone dear to her. That gave her the idea of painting ‘the side of an abandoned house in my neighborhood in New Orleans with chalkboard paint and stenciled it with a grid of the sentence “Before I die I want to _______.” By the next day the wall was entirely filled out.
It’s only fitting that it started in the city that’s been synonymous with death and renewal, even before Hurricane Katrina devastated it several years back. Of all places, perhaps none like New Orleans, with its blend of mysticism and roots culture, would be better prepared to embrace Chang’s personal, spare of the moment reaction to grief.
It became a community project, moving from one dilapidated neighborhood house to the other, as they hopefully got ready to ‘be turned into a home again thanks to new owners.’ It’s mutated now into walls spread out in dozens of neighborhoods around the world, each speaking their own language and local color.

In fact, it’s the kind of project that, once gathered in a book format, for example, may offer a quite revealing insight into both the diversity and commonality of the human experience, circa 2012. With at least one great advantage when compared to the religious experience, or other supernatural belief someone may need to shelter.
It offers a material, concrete way to at least express what path we’d like our lives to take, if we could help it. We may not have any control over it, but that doesn’t mean we’ll need to walk a mile on our knees to show contrition and earn the gratitude of a vengeful god. We can simply wish, and wish it well, that things will get to make sense before we catch our last breath. And that should be enough.

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