This article was first published in my community blog Life Goes On for the St. Albert Gazette.
“I’m checking to see if I’m there.”
My dad would say that when I asked him why he read the obituaries in the newspaper each morning. Now years later, like many things my parents did that I used to roll my eyes at, I too read the obituaries every morning while I have my coffee.
I don’t read all of them. I scan the page for the ones that pop out at me. Sometimes I come across people from my past – a university professor, or a long lost colleague or the relative of a client. Of course most of the time, they are people I have never met – just columns and columns in the newspaper of human beings who are no longer walking amongst us. Sometimes it’s the photo that catches my eye. Sometimes it’s the age of the person. Sometimes it’s a word or phrase.
It’s become part of my regular morning ritual. I’m not checking to see if I’m there. I figure if I have slipped this mortal coil I won’t be reading the paper any more. I do it for other reasons.
Reading the obits reminds me of how very fragile and random our human existence is. There are an awful lot of young people – which from my vantage point of 50+ is anyone younger than me – who have illnesses and accidents that take them far too soon from their loved ones. Sometimes something tragic like a suicide or a crime is the cause. Lots of people have lived to a ripe old age – into their eighties or nineties or hundreds. Even so life is just way too short.
We know in our heads that one day we will die, but we don’t want to think about it too much. We sure don’t like talking about it. People get mega uncomfortable talking about death. That strikes me as funny given that we are all going to do it eventually.
Even though we know that our days are ultimately numbered, I think we like to live in denial about it. Somehow we convince ourselves that we will outlive the next guy, we will beat the statistical odds and there will be time enough for whatever it is we want to do. Reading about the obit people helps me to be more mindful every morning that today might just be my last. That’s not morbid or depressing. It’s actually quite life affirming – a nudge to remember to make good use of the day at hand. To first pay attention to the most important things. To say what I have to say. Without a constant reminder it’s too easy to let things get out of perspective.
Reading the obits also reminds me that the legacy we leave is created day by day. When I read about Mary who was a classy lady loved by all, or Bill with a welcoming attitude and easy laugh that endeared him to a wide circle of friends, or Jim who will be remembered most as a man of integrity, I know that reputation didn’t happen overnight. It was the result of thousands of choices day after day. That serves as a good reminder that every morning I too have a choice about how I will show up in the world. One day somebody will write an obituary for me and here’s hoping there is no shortage of good things to say.
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What is your morning ritual?