Paul Greenberg

The old editor I was meeting seemed defeated. We didn't talk about the job. Instead, we looked out his office window to see Manhattan's flags being lowered to half-staff one by one as the word spread and the afternoon light turned yellow in New York's dingy canyons.

The editor talked about how it had felt the day FDR died.

Certain days stay in the mind. Like a film that is unwound and replayed again and again. As much as you'd like to stop it. Each time. But you can't.

Years later, the phone would ring and I would turn the television on to see the jetliners strike the buildings again and again. In an endless loop. As much as you'd like to stop it, to turn it off, you can't.

To watch the Zapruder film is like that. It is to see the destruction of the temple again and again. Nothing ever changes. It is always 12:29, Dallas time, November 22, 1963.

Never again, one thought at the time, would Americans take their country so lightly, their institutions so for granted.

But time passes and fortune changes, and some years the day passes almost unnoticed.

Then some new crisis erupts, and people are reminded again of how fragile society really is. We are jerked awake, and realize that life is shipwreck. And that our way of life is not a machine that runs by itself after all, but one that requires daily heroism. Suddenly awake, we look differently at the uniforms that guard us while we sleep. And all it takes to remind us of the fragility of life and power is just a date on the calendar and a certain slant of light.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.