It comes from the Latin verb, “ire,” which means “to go.” The prefix “ob-” can mean “towards, to,” and the like. So the verb altogether, “obire,” means “to go to meet.” It also means to die.
From it we get “obituary,” the account of a person’s life published at the time of death. Back when people read newspapers, obituaries formed a favorite section. It still is, in many small towns. You’ve perhaps heard an old timer say of his morning paper, “I read the obituaries first, to make sure I’m still alive.”
In a small town, just about a week apart, two obituaries appeared, both of women in their 30s. One had a hardscrabble life. Reading between the lines, one sensed she had some personal demons, as we say. And a good deal of bad luck. Was there a story to be told about this life, a story that would make it a life? Nothing ever seemed to add up, to build upon what had gone before. And now it was over.
The other’s picture showed a glamorous woman. Her life was a full resume of accomplishments, social and professional. She had married just a couple of years ago and was leaving behind a baby as well as a husband. This beautiful life, which had seemed to be moving continuously upward, was suddenly stopped by a heart attack, totally unexpected, and fatally efficient.
Someone said to me, “It’s like a tale of two cities.” Rich and poor, glamour and suffering, success and loss.
Yet, to say the obvious, we do not know, cannot know, the meaning of either of these lives. Just as (may I say it again?) we remain in ignorance of what our own life will mean in the end.
On that ultimate judgment day at the end of all things, God Incarnate will show us what our lives have meant. His judgment is an act of love! His love is a searing love, a fire of love! (See 1 Cor. 3:11-15.) Everything about us must pass through that fire. Not everything about us can survive that fire. Nothing about us can pass through it unchanged. That fire of love may disclose to us that things we thought were really good about us actually were quite flawed. And it may also disclose glorious things about our lives that we could never apprehend. But when judgment is done, any person whose life is built on the foundation of Jesus will be able to say, “Yes, that is my life. Thank you for making it a life.”
Who knows the real meaning of her own life? Who knows the real meaning of anyone else’s life? “To go to meet”: that is “obire.” We go to meet our Jesus, and he will then read to us our true obituary.
A postscript to my fellow clergy in the diocese of Dallas. As Theologian-in-residence, I am available to visit your congregation for teaching and the like. Write me if you’d like to schedule something (on Sundays or otherwise): .