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THE OBITUARY COLUMN – Toronto Star Feature Editorial 2007

Why don’t we fill every precious second of our lives pursuing what will give each of us the greatest reward for the very little amount of time given to us?

My grade 13 Biology teacher, Mr. Scholtz, used to say, “Life is the maintenance of negative entropy”, a fancy scientific way of saying the moment you are born is the moment you begin to die.  Based on the random selection of death in our lives, it is a profoundly precise and profoundly prophetic observation.

I believe there is only one noble goal in life.  It is to enrich one’s life by enriching the lives of others.  It is not as monumental a task as one may believe.  It may be a gesture so simple and so innocuous as to be rendered invisible by the world around us.  Even the most humble of actions can shape the community in which we live, and, more importantly, the community of man.

The inspiration for this article was the Obituary column, a microcosm of lives crammed into one single page of recycled newsprint; all for a fleeting moment in time; all to be replaced with a new microcosm of life within the next day or so.

We are so determined to serve ourselves that we forget the immense and irrefutable blessing one anonymous soul may have left behind.  Any one of the individuals on the obituary page may be directly responsible for contributing to the traits of the person you most admire, perhaps your best friend, mother, father, or spouse.

It would be easy to address the importance of the Obituary page with shallow platitudes, but that is not the point.  On that one page a vast and possibly incomprehensible amount of good has vanished from our earth.  Who will replenish it?  Who will replace it? 

We look, I believe, at the names, and sometimes the faces, with perfunctory drollness:  “Oh, so and so died of cancer…this one was only twenty-eight”, and “Here’s one, no cause of death and no donations listed…must have been suicide”.  We are benignly oblivious and blissfully detached from what we are reading, even though the impending mortality of every human is staring back at them from that page of newsprint. 

For some, death will hammer them like a sledgehammer within days of their last obituary reading.  For others, it will be devastation of another kind; the sudden death of someone of immeasurable importance to the person, and, perhaps, a person to whom they needed to say, “I’m sorry”, or “please forgive me”.
Observe the comments, the reverie of lives lived with vigour and generosity, and of lives lived mostly for others.  We are staring at pockets of gold; gems in the store; roses in the shop.

Take heed of the causes of death – they are the canary in the coalmine for a good number of us if we do not change our ways.  Appreciate and take action toward the devastation leveled at each and every one of us by the various forms of cancer, heart disease, vehicular accidents, etc.  Make an effort to reduce the carnage.

Let us not live as though events or episodes were a moment in our lives.  Let’s live as though there were lives in our moments.  Do not be gallant.  Let the cavalier activity of perusing a page of death notices inspire us; be anything but cavalier; carry forward the torch of those before you with unrestrained determination; live what may have been an unrewarding life with enthusiastic zeal.  Our time is now! 

The reward that comes from making others happy is the ultimate reward.  Stand out from the crowd.  Make your obituary sing and dance like there is no tomorrow.  Be the standard by which others aspire to live. Be the moment.  Be the seed, and seed goodwill.   The love and friendship that will follow will astonish even the most cynical among us.  Who knows, tomorrow, and the days ahead, can be the best days of your life, and lives to come.


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