TTLG: Eat Dessert First
Former news executive editor Lauren Adler ’23 reflects on learning to appreciate life through her experience editing The Dartmouth’s obituaries.
This article is featured in the 2023 Commencement & Reunions special issue.
It’s a beautiful day in Hanover as I’m writing this — sunny and warm without being sweaty, with just enough puffy white clouds in the sky to be perfectly picturesque. It’s the type of day that reminds me why spring is my favorite season, even though the term begins frozen and muddy. To me, days like this are a symbol that life has returned to Dartmouth and to our community.
That idea of life used to be something that I had come to expect. That’s not to say that I take mine for granted — I am grateful every day for my health, my privilege and my loving family and friends. But I got used to life itself as an experience, not really considering it very carefully. Life was good, but life just … was.
Then, I — along with the other three executive editors — became responsible for deciding whether someone else’s life was adequately captured in 800 to 1,000 words. Many, many times.
During our tenure on the 179th Directorate, The Dartmouth published obituaries for 17 people. Many of them were very young. One was my friend. One shared my first name, giving me the uniquely jarring experience of reading about myself in the past tense. But all of their deaths — old and young, friend and stranger, student, faculty or staff — were difficult in their own way. Truly, there are no words to describe the feeling of opening an email titled “Loss of a Dartmouth Community Member” and adding a new name to the backlog of life stories waiting for publication, or of having to decide which of the three obituaries of the week gets to occupy the prime spot on the front page. How can four 21-year-olds possibly decide which person — which life — is the most deserving?
I am incredibly proud of all 17 of those obituaries, and of all of the writers and editors who came together to support each other and pay tribute to the life stories of so many. They are beautiful, moving tributes, and I hope that they provided some form of comfort to the loved ones left behind. Looking back on my four years at The D, of all the many, many types of work I did for the newspaper, managing obituaries has been the most meaningful to me.
As I reflect on my year as executive editor, I think of those 17 names: Donna, Brian, David, Deborah, Richard, Alex, Josh, Sam, Luke, James, Lauren, Steve, Vicki, Dax, Teddy, Chris, Ife. I wonder if they would like what we wrote about them. I hope so.
When someone passes away in the Jewish community, in addition to “rest in peace,” people say “may their memory be a blessing.” And in happier moments, instead of clinking glasses and saying “cheers!” you say “L’Chaim!” — to life. It conveys a sense of celebration, the idea that life can be more than just being alive — it can be joyful. The memories conveyed in our 17 obituaries did turn out to be a blessing: They made me realize that even if I was grateful for the shape my life has taken, I was taking the idea of life itself for granted.
Editing obituaries made me sad and confused and stressed and upset. But that’s life. Walking past Robo on this beautiful spring day and feeling the sun on my face made me happy. That’s life too. I had always known these facts to be true, but before I came to know those 17 life stories, I had never fully appreciated them. I had been used to life as an experience, but our obituaries taught me that I could be excited just to be along for the ride. And for that, to me, their memories will always be a blessing.
This term, I haven’t edited any obituaries — I am retired, after all. But I have been very intentional about appreciating my life and everything it throws at me. When I got sick, I appreciated that my body was telling me it needed time to rest. When it rained and I was stuck inside, I appreciated the opportunity to sit on the couch and hang out with my friends. When I had to run errands and my car was parked on the other side of campus, I did my best to appreciate the 20-minute walk — and honestly, when I stopped being annoyed about it, I ended up enjoying it. I even appreciated the bad days — at least, I did once they were over — because I knew that they would make the good days to come even sweeter.
My dad has an apron at home from our family’s favorite dessert shop that I’ve thought about a lot this spring. It has a big slice of cake on the front, around which it reads, “Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.” It’s cute and silly and maybe a little cheugy as a saying, but it’s not entirely wrong.
So, to all of you reading this who I might not see for a while: Have a nice life. No, really — appreciate it, every fleeting moment, the good and the bad. Revel in its uncertainty. And eat dessert first.
Lauren Adler is a former news executive editor of The Dartmouth and a member of the Class of 2023.