The Other Sports Page

By Richard Davis

Some people call it the Jewish Sports Page. Others call it the Irish Sports Page. I’m sure there are a lot of other names for what most people recognize as a newspaper’s obituary section. Nowadays that section may be online, but it usually amounts to the same thing. A picture and a description of a life.

I don’t know when it started for me, but one of the first things I do in the morning is to scan the local obituaries. It has reached the level of a compulsion and I have been trying to figure out why it has become such an integral part of my life.

During the week my news and “sports page” reading is usually online. On Sunday I like to have the newsprint in my hand and I spend a considerable amount of time reading about the lives of people I have never known.

I suspect a lot of people in their mid-seventies, as I am, think about death and their legacy a lot more than people who are younger. It is not a morbid fascination but a recognition of the realities of life and death. No one escapes death, at least not in the world that I live in.

My Sunday paper is the Boston Globe and as I read the obituaries I look for anyone who may have been from the town where I grew up. I think that is how this obsession started and it is rare for me to actually find someone I may have known.

What is it about a life that has ended that is so fascinating? Reading about famous and ordinary people makes me reflect on my own life. Should I measure myself against the lives of others who may have done more earth-changing things? Should I find solace in the fact that most people lead fairly simple lives and that their occupation and their family have molded them into the people they became.

The more important reflection for me leads me to think more about what is really important in my life. Does it really matter if my death gets a headline on a separate page other than the obituary page? Does it matter that I don’t have a long list of accomplishments that made the world a better place?

The answer is a simple “No” because I have come to realize that a life well-lived means a life that is a model for how we should treat others and ourselves in a world that is on the brink of going mad and making no sense.

After reading thousands of obituaries I also have begun to think about writing my own so that no one will say things about me that are out of character for who I have been. I guess that I have come to the conclusion that an obituary is an important statement, the final statement, about a life and that it should be truthful.

I have never seen an obituary that has said that a person was hated by most people and that he or she was someone everyone tried to avoid. I’m sure many of the obituaries I have read could have said that but people take the dictum “Don’t speak ill of the dead” seriously. I would not be upset if my obituary said, “He was not the easiest person to deal with because he had the compulsion to leave no stone unturned. A polite way of saying I could be a pain in the ass at times and that I had a lot of control issues.

As you age think about how you want to be remembered. It will help you reflect on your current life and that might just make you a better person.

That is what I have learned from my “sports pages”.

Comments | 1

  • Was never much into sports but...

    I recently did a double take while reading an alumni magazine. Checking to see who had news and who died, I noticed that one of my best friends from college was in the Obit list. Turns out he got quite sick a year ago, didn’t tell anyone, and a couple of months later he was gone. I had wondered why his social media posts had stopped – I assumed he blocked me… : )

    I also got in touch with an old college friend recently (partly to find out about another old friend – she passed away a few years back) and the day I reached out was the day he found out from his doctor that his 15 year fight with cancer was coming to an end and it was time for hospice care. (Music lovers – check out the work of Thomas Brodhead if you are interested in the definitive edition of Ives IV. Some great YouTube videos explain it, and he told me that San Francisco has the best version out there…)

    I’ve had other deaths throughout my life, but these were the first shots across the bow in terms of old friends.

    I think you are right that you should, from time to time, think about how you want to be remembered. And also know that you or someone you know could go at any moment. Reach out and say something while you can.

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