On my way to the office recently I saw a number of people standing in front of Juneau’s latest addition to the downtown area – a chalkboard located on Main Street inviting people to finish the incomplete sentence, “Before I die I want to ___________”. It seemed like the people standing there were taking their time reading each response or contemplating what to write. I later learned from a Juneau Empire article that the project was organized by Daniel Glidmann, property manger of Goldstein Improvement Co.
I have always heard people say that going to Alaska was on their “bucket list”. Many conversations and even one movie (that I’m aware of) have addressed the topic of what people would like to do before they die — before they “kick the bucket”. And so, as a clergyman who deals a lot with life and death, I was intrigued by what some people wrote in response to that simple incomplete sentence.
Asking a person what they want to do before they die is a way of asking a person what would make life most complete to them.
There is a sense in all people that life is an opportunity for something immeasurably meaningful, something reflective of the gift of life itself. Everybody has a sense that we have an obligation to do good with life.
As I studied the statements of those who accepted the invitation to write something, I noticed a trend. Each person wrote what they valued most. Sure, some were silly, but most were quite earnest, even serious.
It is as if the blackboard allowed passersby to remember for a moment that life is fragile and passes by quickly, and that it always ends in the mysterious and painful reality of human death.
The inevitability of death demands reflection upon the meaning of life, what is most significant about it, and how to make the most of the gift of life.
Some were concerned with grasping the fullness of the gift of life and not taking it for granted, responding with: — learn to appreciate every day; — live life to the fullest; — travel the world; — see a cure found for MS. Others were about the relatedness of our lives to family and community: — return to AK with my family; — see my grandchildren; — meet a nice gal; — go to Israel; — be with the love of my life, my husband. And then others were directly spiritual in nature: — see God in all; — become a saint; — find God; — read my Bible all the way through; — tell u God is faithful; — see everyone come to Christ; and one that deeply touched my heart... — make up for my mistakes and find my family and God again.
What we see through this project on Main Street is that despite a real fragmentation in our present society, there are some perennial themes to human goodness that keep resurfacing: the desire to be grateful for life, that family is fundamental, that generosity and sacrifice are central aspects of realizing human dignity. People, for the most part, have a longing to heal, to be reconciled, to alleviate suffering, and desire to introduce others to what is good — all of this and more, seen as the completion of who they are. Saint Francis of Assisi once said, “Remember that when you leave this earth you can taken nothing of what you have received, but only what you have a given: a full heart, enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice, and courage.”
From my perspective, true peace and joy are always found in the sacrificial gift of giving oneself to the community and to God, in orienting our desires to what is actually good for us and those we love.
This Main Street project helps us to contemplate the sacredness of life, how precious it is and that the time we have here on earth should be used wisely. As a man of faith with a firm belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I look at this blackboard as an opportunity to reflect — knowing that death will not have the last word.