Notebook: Stories

Share Your Story

An informal survey of dreams fulfilled

Six years after the first Before I Die wall appeared in New Orleans, there are now over two thousands walls in seventy-six countries and thirty-eight languages. During this time, we’ve had the honor to read through aspirations of all kinds, from writing a book to repairing a relationship to giving back to a community. Or running a race, running for office, or simply finding some kind of peace. And we began to wonder: how often are these dreams fulfilled? If you’ve completed something you once wrote on a Before I Die wall, we would love to hear about it. Fill out the form below, and we’ll begin sharing these stories in the weeks to come.

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What Are Your Final Wishes?

A discussion about death helps a mother fulfill her daughter's last wishes

Preparing for death is one of the most important things we can do, not only for ourselves but for the loved ones we leave behind. When Elaine Walton’s 17-year-old daughter discussed her desire to be an organ donor, she never expected it to become a reality so soon. Her daughter died unexpectedly, but her wishes helped save the lives of others. “She saved the life of another 17-year-old boy, a 52-year-old man, and two other people can see because of her corneas. It was such an important healing thing for me to do, to know that she lives on,” Elaine told The Citizens’ Voice. I was very touched to find out the Before I Die project inspired Elaine to organize a two-day art event to facilitate discussion around death. “I just wanted to encourage other people to open their hearts and their minds to what happens when they die, what happens to the people around them, and encourage people to have a plan with their loved ones about their final wishes.” Read more about her story here and learn about her event, Day of the Dead: A Celebration of Life and Cultures.

An Installation Created From Tragedy

“In his fatal moment I didn't realize I was inferring to his angels.”

After a young man in his community died before his eyes, Noël Gaskin created a wall in his neighborhood in Brooklyn. He was there for his last moments. Here’s his story:

On May 1st, a young man known in our Prospect Heights, Brooklyn neighborhood as a nice kid was gunned down on the block where we grew up, outside of a barbershop he frequented on Washington Avenue and St John’s Place. He was shot in the head and torso at 763 Washington Avenue, near St. John’s Place, about 9:51 p.m. He was taken to Methodist Hospital and pronounced dead.

I was in the barbershop on that night of the shooting. The barber gave me a shave while the young man swept and took the day’s trash out. Moments later, three gun shots rang out from behind the door. Frozen in my seat, I sat and turned slowly, recognizing the young man gunned down, lying across the threshold of the door he just crossed over. I managed to get up, to kneel at his head before his last moments. I said, “Take it easy, brother . . . don’t struggle . . . they will be here soon, just don’t struggle.” I didn’t know this young man personally, and in his fatal moment I didn’t realize I was inferring to his angels.

I grew up in Prospect Heights, before this neighborhood was dubbed its present name. I have been equal to challenges and learned how to live here, as well as prospered from obstacles I have overcome. I needed to engage members of my community to think about what they want in this life, what they were up to, and what was important to each of them, and to all of us.  Using the build-your-own-wall guide provided by Candy Chang, I was inspired to remix it and construct my own stencil titled Before I Die I Will.

Keeper of the Asheville Wall Dies

Earl Lee Gray, better known as Happy, touched the lives of many in his community

In 2014 I was happy to hear that the Before I Die wall in Asheville, North Carolina had an unofficial guardian. Earl Lee Gray, better known as Happy, was a disabled veteran who sat in a chair on Biltmore Avenue every day taking care of the local Before I Die wall. “I come out here every day and make sure kids don’t write nasty stuff up there. And believe me, they do,” he told the Citizen-Times. For the next two years he continued to be the keeper of the wall and made many friends along the way. Today, the wall has become a home for his memorial with flowers, photographs, notes from people he touched, and information on how people can donate to his funeral.

Some things people wrote on the donation page: “Asheville has lost a true hero. Downtown will never be the same.” “Happy was the first person who made us feel welcome when we moved to Asheville. He made every person he greeted feel special.” “Always passed Happy on my way to/from work. He would always try to say something if I was having a rough day to make me smile. Even if I didn’t give him a dime.” “Earl was a beautiful and positive man despite his challenges. We will miss his high five and good vibe.” “We will miss your presence and reminder of what’s important in life.” Much love to Happy and his family. Read more at the Citizen-Times.

Honesty from Anonymity

If you could share your struggles, hopes, or confusions anonymously, what would you say?

Our personal anxieties extend into our public life and many of the conflicts in our communities come from a lack of trust and understanding. It’s easy to be an angry neighbor when you don’t know the other person. Over time I’ve seen how the personal anonymous prompt on Before I Die installations can offer a gentle first step towards honesty and vulnerability in public, which can lead to trust and understanding. These are essential elements for a more compassionate society.

When Bailey Meyers created a Before I Die installation in Guilford, Connecticut, as part of a project to earn his Eagle Scout award, he was only fifteen years old but spoke with the thoughtfulness of a weathered man. “I think when people anonymously put things on the boards, then they’re more honest about it. So they can really express how they feel inside because there’s no one judging them, because there are no names connected to these things,” he told the Shore Line Times. “A lot of times we’re just constantly hurtling through life, going for the next job promotion, going to get out of school, going to pay for your kid’s college, all the things that you sort of have to do. You’re just working towards all these short term goals and you’re not really looking at the big picture of what you really want to do. So this will help people get back on track.” More here and here.