Today I realized that my newspaper rituals are a bit dark if not acheronian. I read the paper in two doses the first of which involves a quick skimming of the front page headlines just like what I assume the overwhelming majority of readers do. Front page headlines in Middle Eastern papers are about 70% related to death because death in this region is an unavoidable topic. An excerpt on the number of people who died to the west of us in Gaza and the West bank; story continued on page five. An excerpt on the number of people who died to the east of us in Iraq; story continued on page six.

What I’ve lately found to be abnormal is that I will always flip to the much avoided graveyard of newspaper sections: the obituaries, just to find out who died today. At the kitchen table I read aloud familiar family names followed by their age. In my mind I am calculating averages: in Jordan you either die too young or too old.

The flamboyant language of the obituaries is almost always entrancing. The words people choose to use, the adjectives they employ to describe someone they once knew. Pay attention: in Jordan, the greatness of one’s life is measured in inches: how large is the black frame that encircles your name when you die? Is it the small trivial box in the corner of the page amidst a monotone mosaic of geometrics? Like Muslim headstones in a cemetery; a display of pebbles purposely aligned on a beach, blending perfectly. Is it half a page; just enough to say you were important but humble. Or does it stretch across the entire gray sheet to reiterate a single simple statement: I was here and I mattered.

Are you above the fold or six feet under?

Pay attention: the anatomy of your obituary is delicate. The architecture of your frame means everything. If only to be remembered in death the way you lived.

Other than a sprinkle of scripture between the newspaper fray there are no teachings of Islam to be found here: you are not born equal and you do not die equal. For surely some lives matter more than others. In Jordan, some lives do matter more than others.

And on the final page, after all the squares, a rectangle appears: a list of names of those who died in Palestine. Just one name after another, a sorted daily memoriam for a population who have so many relatives west of the river. None of the names are paid for, simply a public service. As informative as the little box that tells you what the weather will be like today or what time the sun will set.

Pay attention: the obituaries can keep you humble. If only to make you remember the way you should be living. To memento mori and carpe diem, before it carpes you.

Myself? I do not want to be remembered as a faceless name in the obituaries. I do not want to be boxed in with black frames on gray paper. Whatever you do, do not, do not, do not box me in. Do not measure my life in inches or weigh my soul in adjectives. Not a name on a list; never just a name on a list. Speak of me in chapters, in volumes and anthologies long after I am gone. A trailblazer whose flame still flickers barely on the dirt roads I have plowed amongst a field that I have sown. Long ago.

Or speak nothing of me at all; a footnote in a forgotten history. Unworthy of a freckle of dust in the back pages of a newspaper.

In either case say nothing.

Let my life be the writer of its own obituary.

Let it tell its own story.

If only to be remembered the way I lived.


  • Nas, you sent me to the dictionary with ‘acheronian’.

    This should be in paper print, great story and images!

    I’m sure you’re obit will be a 5 dimensional hologram (sp?), or whatever the latest technology will be then, done in your honor by friends and family.

  • Nas, do you want to be immortalized? be hated by those who are hated most.

    yes…think Saddam, once despised by most, a villain transofrmed by the hate of his mad enemies into a symbol of pride and defiance. the irony. stupid Americans never learn from their own movies. His photos will now be hung up next to Jamal Abdelnaser and King Faisal, another victim of brotherly betrayal. Just 3 years ago, most people wished him away. What a lucky guy. from absolute villain to absolute hero.

    and Arafat, once a butt of jokes until militant jews laid siege to his home and then poisoned him. before, he was on the brink of infamy, the leader of a corrupt militia, after all the fatah nobleman were killed by hateful zionists. Arafat too was saved by the blind hate of his enemies. From a joker into the man who made a last honorable stand and paid for it with his life.

    Then you have the reverse case with Anwar Sadat, the hero of the 1973 October war with Israel, the man who overran the legendary BarLeve Defense line, with high pressure water hoses. The man who rendered the unconquerable Israeli air force impotent. At the end, he was loved by those who are hated the most: the Americans and the Israelis. Few people think fondly of him, except those who made money through his acquaintance or those whose agenda he had served.

    Bottom line Nas, it does not matter what you do in your life, make sure the Americans or the Israelis have something to do with your departure and you will be immortalized 🙂

    Gotta pour me the 14th cup of coffee. C YA.

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