My favorite thing in New Orleans was something we happened upon by accident. The “Before I Die” walls have been seen and drawn upon in numerous cities across many countries by now, but my visit to New Orleans marked the first one I’d seen in person. Candy Chang, the original artist, started her project in New Orleans before it went global, which gave seeing her new installation a little extra impact.
The wall was situated between neighborhoods on the wall of a museum and near a school. Many of the blanks had been filled in by children, their hopes and dreams ranging from the beautiful (take a grandparent on a trip to somewhere they’ve never been; see solar roadways in all major cities) to the things only kids can say without sounding like jerks (be adored; be rich) to the profound (be free). It was uplifting to see such aspirations from the next generation and even more so when you compared them to the things on the wall written by adults or teens (or very tall children with very good handwriting). So many of the children’s goals focused on other people or society as a whole; adults focused on themselves (run a marathon, see a particular place). While such goals as those mentioned are worthy and I wholeheartedly think everyone should travel to experience a culture outside their own, I was struck with the difference.
Maybe it’s because we’re told to be realistic. Maybe it’s because we’re selfish. Maybe it’s because as death looms nearer we’re more focused on things in our control. I don’t know. What I do know is that it made me reevaluate what I want to do before I die. Like many of the adults, my immediate goals are self-serving. I still want those things, but after bearing witness to that wall of lofty aspirations, I made an effort to expand my goals to do things that more specifically include the betterment of life and society for others as well. I was more than surprised that chalk (many little nubs) still resided in the cup and along the wall for use, but I wrote those goals down and have been more active in working toward them since (no, I didn’t take photos of them). I hope, with or without a wall of people’s goals and dreams and wishes for the future, that you’ll do the same.
– M. Ray Hall