WASHINGTON -- After the plain pine box is lowered into the grave, the mourners are asked to come forward -- immediate family first -- and shovel dirt onto the casket. Only when it is fully covered, only when all that can be seen is dust, is the ceremony complete.
Such is the Jewish way of burial. Its simplicity, austerity and unsentimentality would have appealed to Irving Kristol, who was buried by friends and family Tuesday. Equally fitting for this most unsentimental of men was the spare funeral service that preceded the burial. It consisted of the recitation of two psalms and the prayer for the dead, and two short addresses: an appreciation by the rabbi, followed by a touching, unadorned remembrance by his son Bill.
The wonder of Irving was that he combined this lack of sentimentality with a genuine generosity of spirit. He was a deeply good man who disdained shows of goodness, deflecting expressions of gratitude or admiration with a disarming charm and an irresistible smile. That's because he possessed what might be called a moral humility. For Irving, doing good -- witness the posthumous flood of grateful e-mails, letters and other testimonies from often young and uncelebrated beneficiaries of that goodness -- was as natural and unremarkable as breathing.
Kristol's biography has been rehearsed in a hundred places. He was one of the great public intellectuals of our time, father of a movement, founder of magazines, nurturer of two generations of thinkers -- seeding our intellectual and political life for well over half a century.
Having had the undeserved good fortune of knowing him during his 21-year sojourn in Washington, I can testify to something lesser known: his extraordinary equanimity. His temperament was marked by a total lack of rancor. Angst, bitterness and anguish were alien to him. That, of course, made him unusual among the fraternity of conservatives because we believe that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. That makes us cranky. But not Irving. Never Irving. He retained steadiness, serenity and grace that expressed themselves in a courtliness couched in a calm quiet humor.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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