May 18th, 2017
One day you will die. On that day someone who knew you, who loved you, may think to give notice about your death.
And rather than disseminating the news through Facebook, they may perhaps prefer the more traditional way of publishing an obituary.
A while back we recalled the distinction David Brooks made between “resume virtues” and “eulogy virtues”: the former pointing to our capacity to get things done, the latter about what we are in our innermost being. Obituaries tend to give voice to the latter by enumerating the former.
But sometimes you read an obit and sense that its long list of catalogued accomplishments belies, or tries to compensate for, the absence of that inner goodness we’d all prefer to be known for.
Among the making of documentaries these days, there is no end. But the trailer for one caught our eye recently (HT: Prufrock). Most obituaries are composed by the ones they leave behind. But did you know (I didn’t) that though they are a dying breed (sorry), there are still professional obituary writers? Not just copy-editors or typesetters, but authors who border on the virtuosic in the retelling of a person’s life for a mourning few and the curious many. These writers’ work involves far more than taking a few dictations from loved ones, but both researching deep into the histories of their subjects and composing a few fitting words to encapsulate that history–and all on an urgent deadline. Don’t know when Obit might be available to a larger public, but consider yourself teased:
We’ve been focusing on the doctrine of resurrection for several weeks now. Last week in this column we heard one man’s wish for the epitaph upon his tombstone–what eulogy virtues he hopes his life will have clearly reflected.
Some might think it morbid to imagine in advance what your obituary might say. But can you think of an exercise more clarifying to your priorities and patterns than finding some words that you hope would characterize your life as a whole? Would that draft obit not be a version of the best self you might hope to be for the time you have left?
And yet can you also imagine how that process would mean having to review all the parts of your life you’d desperately want to omit from the obit–if not expunge from the life from which they derived (if you could)? It’s probably a good thing the composition of obits typically falls to others. For we know ourselves so well we might think an obit of us not worth writing.
Can you see then how the news of resurrection, and the news of forgiveness that resurrection validates, can be a catalyst for both releasing what we’d never want in an obit, and also embracing a way of living, the summary of which might find its way into one?
Last Sunday we asked what ethics flow from a belief in resurrection. Here’s Sarah Coakley again speaking to how resurrection in the future (though listen to how she qualifies talk about time) is meant to have immediate impact on our now.
That even our bodies may survive the grave is meant not to induce us into complacency, but in fact, rouse us to that action that fits with love. How would the way you’re living this day be different were you to trust that the resurrection that reunites body to soul also separates forever sin from self?