Before I die…

The Kingfish celebratory weekend is behind us; the rich memories have remained within us, like  silvery strands of a spider’s silken web; and given us inspiration to live on as well as food for thought.
We strive to keep ourselves connected to those sparkly threads as we go on with our regular lives here in Trinidad.   With our third week of school under our belts,  we are beginning to fall into a routine of sorts.

Like the fifth graders who are practicing their foreshortening skills, we are in it, both feet planted in front of us, with our hands not far behind.  We try to do it as gracefully as possible, and not panic when things don’t go exactly as we planned.   One of the deepest learnings we have acquired in jumping outside of our familiar sphere has been to see the richness of life with a new perspective.   To remember the choices we have, as we surf along the silky threads.  To panic or to shift.  To judge or to wonder.  To criticize or to notice.  To get exasperated or to become curious or look the other way.  So many choices we have as we tiptoe along the fine line, like tightrope walkers.  And sometimes we do need to jump off the silken cord, and make our own path.  Instead of doing this in a panic, I strive to notice and design the details of my sole(s)  as I descend into the progressive chapters of my life.

Because when it comes right down to it, we will all die someday.  And when we do, we can only hope we do so not saying, “If only I had done …..  ”  Or at least our list of regrets will be short.  I was lucky  to stumble upon the work of an amazing artist named  Candy Chang.  Following the death of a very important person in her life, she decided to transform an old dilapidated building in her New Orleans neighborhood into a huge chalkboard, inviting people to complete the sentence “Before I die I want to…..This soon turned into an international project, with chalkboards all around the world.

People have so many dreams to be realized.  Some big, some small.
Candy Chang

You can see her on TED talks.

Before my sister Connie died,  I thanked her for all that she was, for the connection we shared, and for  how much she inspired me and shaped who I am.

She told me “Ellen, you are one of the most amazing people I know, but you need to follow through on your ideas more.”

Time is finite, ideas are infinite.   I made the vow then and there to follow through more.  Here I am, living out three of these infinite ideas: teaching abroad, writing, and seeing in person that bananas actually grow upside down.

Some of the follow-through begins with the little choices we make.

We have choices every day.  When the rain comes again, we can choose to say  “Oh, crap, not again.”  (anonymous) or  “Where is my umbrella?  I need to take a dip in the rain.” (Nicole)

And as a parent, I can choose to remember these words more clearly than some of her other words that may not have been so uplifting.

I can choose to see my co-workers as rodents,

or as the beautiful artists that they are.

When the conversation at the plum tree becomes uninteresting,

I can choose to follow  the little yellow butterfly who entices me along a winding path that leads to a large regal pomerac tree.

I can decide the pomeracs are out of reach,

or I can find a way to them.   I wouldn’t want to say some day,  “if only I had climbed up and picked those pomeracs.”

If only I had 

given into sleep after a long week of school.

If only I hadsaid yes to friendship.

If only I had

interpreted the rules less literally.

If only I had not

kept my hands in front of my face, even though my pigtails were flying.

So let’s dive in

to life.

It is finite, after all.

And, if you have made it through this somewhat rambling blog entry, I invite you to make a comment and fill in the blank:  Before I die, I’d like to………………” Saying it out loud might just make it come true.  You can make it anonymous if that gives you more courage.

26 thoughts on “Before I die…

  1. Hi Ellen and all beautiful people,
    WOW! Ellen, I am so moved by your blog entries and honored to read them and let them turn over in my head and heart. Much gratitude to you for this particular one, as you are sending out a powerful reminder about the gift of life and staying in the joy of the present moment. Thank you for sharing this intimate experience you are having with your own challenges and wonders.

    “Before I die, I’d like to play a musical instrument, sing with a jazz band, and witness more peace and justice and less violence and sorrow in the world.”

    thanks Ellen! We love you and miss you all!
    Mary, Paul and Ella

  2. “Before I die, i’d like to become conversant in Portuguese and discover hidden “wonders”! Whatever they may be!”

    Ellen’s writings are so poignant. Particularly this one, as I emerge from an hours worth of “reality check in”.


  3. Hi Ellen, Sissy, Branx and Junie! I love this entry about life and perspectives and regrets and the temporariness of it all. Thanks for the beautifully put reminder. I miss you guys and am going to get my plane ticket toute suite! Keep that pomerac fresh for me!


    P.S. Before I die, I want to build a treehouse retreat.
    P.P.S. Your pictures are spectacular!

  4. I love reading your blog, Ellen. I find it beautiful and inspiring and often just the right thing at the right time.
    Before I do I want to write a really good novel.

  5. With the anniversary of 9/11 upon us, I am feeling acutely aware of how finite and precious our time is, and your blog brought that right home for me… I LOVE your profound perspectives on life and our connections with one another. I believe those connections continue even after the death of a loved one. Connie definitely lives on in you, and she would be SO proud of you and the commitment you’ve made to pursue your dream… The photo of you two is beautiful, as are all the photos in your amazing blog! You truly are an artist! Looking forward to the next entry…
    Before I die, I’d like to know my children are happy; witness peace in the world; and live in a house on the beach…

  6. somehow you managed to put tears on my cheeks and a smile to my lips at the same time! I think trinidad has done wonders for your writing, not to mention what it’s done for your pomerac tree climbing. Before i die I want to travel across the country by bike, be a grandparent who spoils his grandchildren and spend time on a tropical island with some really cool people from vermont. Love ya ellen

  7. I love that picture of you and Connie. What a beautiful post.
    Before I die, I want to own my own home. I want to have a job that I love, that pays enough that I don’t have to stress, and two kids.

    Sending hugs and kisses to all of you in Trinidad. 🙂

  8. Amazing writing and pics. Before i die I want to travel to australia and swim in the Great Barrier Reef, and go Jump of a really high cliff into water. Luv u all:)!!!

  9. This got me, Ellen, all of it. The kids’ paintings, Nicole in the rain, Connie’s advice, your words (and the fact that you are DOING IT). Before I die, I want to somehow live a little closer to the edge.

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