Paul Greenberg

A Russian once told me that the great thing about getting drunk in the morning was that it cleared your whole day. How Russian.

That was back when there was still a Soviet Union of late, unlamented memory - a regime capable of driving anyone to drink and worse. The Russian wrote for Novosti, Pravda or some such "news" agency. No wonder he drank.

Poor fellow, he was what we soon learned to call a Sovjournalist - as opposed to a real one.

There is no more Soviet Union, but one suspects things haven't changed all that much under the newest tsar. The suspicion is confirmed every time a real journalist is killed in Russia.

The great challenge, there and here, remains just to reflect the ordinary, everyday truths of life. And not let our own journalism block the view.

In a free country, readers provide a healthy corrective, which is what letters to the editor are for. In countries not as free, the criticism takes the form of censorship. Or an assassin's bullet. Some killers act under cover of law, others are moved by their own fanaticism.

In any society riven by hatreds or suppressed by iron rule - the two tend to go together, like some kind of fatal syndrome - a rare writer may come along who lets the reader see the ordinary truths of life through prose as clear as plate glass. And the sight is enough to enrage those who want him silenced.

Such a writer is living on borrowed time. See the murder of the Armenian/Turkish/just human Hrant Dink in Istanbul.

He knew it would happen one day or another. "I feel like a pigeon," he wrote in what would be his last article. "Like a pigeon I wander uneasily amidst this city, watching my back constantly, so timid and yet so free."

Fresh flowers now mark the spot on the busy street where he was shot down. His funeral goes on every day.

If you want to really clear up your day so you really see it, rather than just go through it in a fog, start it with a funeral. It puts things in perspective. It carves the rest of the day in bas-relief. The trivial is gently blown away, no longer worth bothering with. The vital leaps out: friends, family, and those ordinary courtesies and delights of life that are anything but ordinary, like the presence of love. All are heightened after a funeral. How could we ever have overlooked them, lived without them?

At 11 o'clock Wednesday morning, I was hurrying into Temple B'nai Israel here in Little Rock for the funeral of a great lady who had no great airs. Yes, there are still such; just look around. This lady's name was Bea Marks, and I thought of her as the last Yiddish speaker in Arkansas.


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.