Why? I can think of many reasons. Obituaries celebrate a life well lived. They return history to a human scale, reminding us that history is not shaped by emperors, generals, or queens alone, but also by ordinary people against the backdrop of large-scale events. Most importantly, for me, obituaries tell stories — stories of human experience, of triumphs over personal tragedy, of love.
Sometimes they offer lessons, too. I was charmed by this one on the law from the Boston Globe obituary for legal scholar and authority on comparative legal history Harold J. Berman. He described himself as a law student from an early age “like all children”, since children instinctively grasp the basic principles of law:
“A child says, ‘It’s my toy.’ That’s property law,” he said. “A child says, ‘You promised me.’ That’s contract law. A child says, ‘He hit me first.’ That’s criminal law. A child says, ‘Daddy said I could.’ That’s constitutional law.”
(To which I would add, a child says, “Let’s take turns.” That’s dispute resolution.)