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THE LIVES THEY LIVED

Ira Glass, Julie Snyder and Lisa Pollak, producers of WBEZ Chicago’s public-radio program “This American Life,” were guest editors of this section of the magazine.

When The Times Magazine’s editors invited us to be part of the annual ‘‘Lives They Lived’’ issue, they told us two things: 1) They wanted us to be bold and shake things up, and 2) Times readers love the issue just the way it is.

Nice. We decided to try something that’s not so different from what we do each week on the radio. For each person, rather than the soup-to-nuts sweep of a typical obituary, we chose only one story from his or her life. An excerpt. As much as possible, we tried to get these stories in their own words, or in the words of people close to them. Our hope was that the immediacy and intimacy of this approach would bring us close to these people, and help us hear their voices, get a feeling for who they were.

Many of the people we’ve chosen have done nothing that would normally get them into a magazine. If the premise of this issue is to tell stories about who has died this year, well, everyone dies. It’s the most democratic experience of all, the one that, unhappily, we’ll all take part in, sooner or later.

And of the hundreds of stories we considered, we were surprised to find that many of the ones we liked the most are from people talking directly about facing death, either their own or someone else’s. These turn out to be very revealing stories. Not maudlin or despairing, just cleareyed, and occasionally hopeful. This is, over all, a hopeful collection of people.

Click the picture above to read some of the most ordinarily extraordinary obituaries of the year.

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