By Lisa Scottoline
Of course I read the obituaries.
I can’t be the only one.
I do it every morning, in two newspapers, before I start to work. It takes a lotu of time. I know, it sounds like stalling, but it’s more like praying.
You’ll see what I mean.
And it’s not as if I started reading them recently, now that it’s likelier I’ll die than find a date.
In truth, I’ve read obits all my life, even as a kid.
I never saw them as being about deaths. I saw them as being about people, and I love people.
In other words, it’s not a death story. It’s a life story.
I’m always struck by how accomplished people are, and what they’ve done in their lives that’s benefited me, only I didn’t know it. For example, today I read an obit of a doctor who was one of the first to link smoking to cancer. I owe that guy, though I ever knew him. I nagged my father to quit, and he did. I nagged Mother Mary to quit, but she didn’t until she got and survived throat cancer.
Did I mention she’s stubborn?
I read another obit, of a real estate developer who changed the skyline of my beloved hometown, Philadelphia, and was also responsible for one of my favorite works of art, the giant Clothespin by Claes Oldenburg, which sits in front of the office building where I used to work.
I owe that guy, too.
I used to love to look out of my office window at that sculpture. It’s a brown clothespin that’s ten stories tall, and it made me smile, every day. Because of it, I bought a book about Claes Oldenburg and learned about his life and his art. So the least I can do is take the time to read about the man who introduced me to Claes Oldenburg and send him a mental thank-you note.
I always read the obits of soldiers. I owe it to them, each and every one of them. They’re so young, and they’re out there day and night, putting their very lives on the line while I make dinner or walk the dogs or pour coffee. The obits are the stories of their lives and their accomplishments, which are the greatest and most unselfish of all.
Sacrificing one’s life for another.
But not every obit is of a soldier or a famous doctor, and that’s precisely the point. Lots of obits are of cooks, dentists, teachers, and mechanics. Every death matters, because every life matters.
Everybody owes somebody for something.
For example, I read an obit today about a high school English teacher. I can’t imagine how many people owe her. Hundreds, maybe thousands, in all her years of teaching. I also read an obit of a fire captain who trained new firefighters at the fire academy. This was a man who saved lives, and who taught others to save lives. How many people owe him?
In our own lives, whom do we owe? Mother, father, daughter, sister, brother, aunt, teacher, doctor, girlfriend. It’s all in the obits. Each one tells the story of a human life, and of a family’s love. I look at the notices, I see the names. Grieved by grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Greatly missed by his father. Survived by a beloved wife.
It sounds simple to say, almost simplistic, but all of us are connected by love and by gratitude.
And the proof, its very particulars, are the obits.
It’s true that I’m a little sad after I finish the obits.
Sometimes the pictures break my heart.
The faces smile at the camera, grinning at someone they love, happy and alive.
And I remember how lucky I am, every morning.
How lucky we all are, in each other.
Past, present, and even future.
All of us.
Copyright Lisa Scottoline