Sunday, March 04, 2007

Acute shortage of good guys


"We're all orphans without Joseph," H. a young journalist at Al Akhbar said as we stood outside the Church of St. John Chrysostomos on Damascus Road before the service began. He looked exhausted, emotionally undone. A few hundred people-- colleagues, friends, readers, admirers, some dignitaries -- Aoun, Berri, Saniora and Lahoud sent representatives, and members of the Lebanese Communist Party gathered on Sunday to bury Joseph Samaha. His body was returned from London less than 24 hours before the burial, where he suddenly passed away last week.

Inside the Church we overheard a man telling his friend: "Everyone here is either black or white. They are either terribly sad or secretly happy to see him go." The flag-bearing CP members stayed outside during the service. Rounds of prayers for his soul were conducted by a gaggle of clergy men. A priest spoke, rather loudly. He said Joseph's presence was needed up there, for he tells the truth, and they, too, need a newspaper. He also said, "we waited for you to go to drag you to Church... Even if you don't believe, the Church is like a mother who is proud of her sons. No matter what." Then Yakoub Sarraf, the resigned Minister of the Environment, bestowed an award of presidential recognition on behalf of President Lahoud.

Eventually people poured in to lay a bouquet-- a single yellow rose and a red feather bound together-- on his coffin. Then the pallbearers-- young journalists, colleagues, family members and admirers-- seized his coffin, raised it above their heads, and carried out the church doors and down the steps. Handfuls of rose petals were thrown over the coffin as it made its way towards the graveyard.

The young men shouldering the coffin-- it was as if they were seizing responsibility for the sudden vacuum left by Joseph Samaha's departure. This country --or perhaps this age-- suffers from an acute shortage of good guys. Maybe it's always been that way. We couldn't afford Joseph's loss, but now there are shoes to fill. A close colleague who went to London to bring back his body mumbled, we have to continue our work. It is the best thing for Joseph. He said it as he had been repeating it to himself for days on end.

As I stood in the back of the Church listening to the prayers I thought long and hard about the term "martyr", which still confuses me, in all its nuances and intended meanings. I don't agree with the pedestal martyrdom is placed on. Or perhaps I only appreciate the term in its narrowest sense, as a way to lend meaning to the death of a young man who has died fighting for his freedom and dignity. Joseph Samaha wasn't a martyr-- cigarette smoking and a hereditary heart condition do not lend meaning to his untimely death. But what if his death serves to mobilize people into action, to take over in his spirit, where he left off?

Perhaps he was lucky to have left the way he did, rather than as a consequence of his refusal to live by strict security measures.

The people mourning Joseph in the Church were also mourning the state of the country. Every person present yesterday exuded a profound loneliness, the loneliness of living without Joseph's friendship, his words and thoughts, his support. H., the young journalist at Al Akhbar, went on and on about how supportive Joseph was when he penned his first pieces.

That's all you'll hear from me in the form of sentimental revery.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

i've never heard of Joseph Samaha until recently. i found your tribute really touching.

Sietske said...

Did you shoot the picture of the coffin & rose petals? Fantastic shot!

3li- said...

There were very few journalists who could cut to the heart of an issue, unencumbered by the cacophony and deliberate deceptions of the selfish and the ignorant, and return to pen a cogent and sobering picture in order to enlighten, and to lay the responsibility on the ruler and the ruled.

Such was Joseph Samaha. His column was the first thing I read every day. A light has been stolen. This little country of “can’t do” never deserved him. We are better suited to the sophistry of the hired hands and “court journalists” whose numbers only seem on the increase.

Thanks for your reserved but telling tribute.

Keep up the good work

phil said...

Very nice tribute. Thanks for sharing some of the words said during the funeral.

EDB said...

Hi Sietske. I did not shoot the picture. It's from Al Akhbar's monday issue.