I’m at that age…

I read obituaries every day.

When I was in journalism school back in 1966, the first assignment thrown at us was to write our own obituary in the style of our hometown newspaper. “What a crazy thing!” I thought as a 17-year-old freshman. “Why would I write about my death when I’m here, alive?”

Never mind that men my age were being drafted and on their way to Vietnam, where they might very well be on their way to obituary-land in their hometown newspapers…

But now, in my 73rd year of life, I find stories of people who have lived extraordinary lives–people I’ve never met but wish I had–people whose stories could very well be characters in any great novels. These obituaries aren’t always the longest, but they’re often the most interesting.

The latest one contains this story, about a veteran teacher in a local school district, one from which this same teacher had graduated herself: She loved to tell the story of a young boy who came up to her one night shortly after [she had established her book tabled] and said, “I have a problem and they told you are the only one who can help me. There’s this book I really like, but there’s this other book my friends all say is really good and I want to read that swell, and I don’t know wha to do.” At that time, the book table was new and the rule was, one book per week. [At the time, the rule was that a student could only take one book per week.] The teacher told the student he could have both books. The kid asked her, “When do I have to have it back?” She replied, “You don’t.” “You mean it’s mine to keep forever?” the boy asked. And he was ecstatic when she told him it was. He had never owned a book in his life! From that point forward, the one book rule for the children was gone!

My kind of teacher. True confessions: I am part Reading is Fun (RIF), whose goal is to improve reading skills and bring books to children–books they can keep. Forever.

Another one starts with a quote from Nikki Sixx, lead guitar player for the heavy metal band, Motley Crue: “Don’t waste your death on a half-assed life.” He lived a “rock star” youth with no regrets: he loved life out loud, enjoyed fast cars and heavy metal music. (Author’s note: At the time of his death, this man was eight years younger than I am as I write this.)

Yet another reveals the story of a young Canadian woman who dropped out of college to join the Canadian Air Force’s Women’s Division. In an article about her decision, she told a newspaper, “I do not wish to say to my grandchildren 50 years hence when all this war is history, that I stayed at home on a peace-time basis while everyone else went and fought for me. Rather, I want to be able to say that I, too, did my part, no matter how small.” After the war, she returned to college to complete an undergraduate degree, followed by a master’s degree in history from Radcliffe College.

Fascinating people. They’re everywhere.

I also find remembrances of people I know as well. Written in an unusual way, a recent obituary remembered a woman whose entire life revolved around helping others. Her children, who learned this trait and carry it on in her memory, wrote the obituary in the form of a “Dear Mom” letter.

Try reading the stories of those who have left us behind on this earth. You might find, as I have, inspiration in the history, perseverance and just sheer extraordinary nature of people–ones you just wish you’d met along the way.