Paul Greenberg

He no longer looked up when he walked out of the office building into the spring evening. The city lights and leafy trees might as well not have been there. He went straight ahead, gazing neither to the left nor right. He used to dawdle, window-shop, daydream. Now he walked purposefully, as if he knew where he was going.

Once he had looked forward to day's end, the refreshing feel of the unfiltered Southern air. Now he scarcely noticed.

Soon the lights in the other office buildings would come on against the encroaching dim. For a moment there would be a feeling of escape into the night. But for now there was only the accumulated heat of the day, pressing down like the past.

Above all, literally above all, there was still the sky. The beauty and ordinariness of it had become too much to contemplate. He was tired of entering into all that, and then having to emerge from it.

Now he preferred to watch where he was going, rather than just meander. He had learned something: Anything that elevates, or recalls the past, or gives you feelings at the end of the day, will demand things of you eventually, just you wait. Things have their own agenda. Notice them and they will not let you be. Avoid eye contact and you'll be safe.

He experienced the weather now mainly over the radio, the way he did traffic jams-something to avoid. He wished he could go through just one day without news, the incessant news, and its unspoken demand that one have an opinion about it. Why?

No, he did not need a vacation. He needed vacancy.

Imagine: They were still talking about what to do about Confederate monuments. Should they be moved, hidden, destroyed, ignored?

Once he would have been outraged. He used to stand up when the band played Dixie. He had been able to refight every battle in The War from Bull Run to Five Forks. But they never turned out any different. It grew tiresome, this endless rehashing. He meant no disloyalty to the past, but it did hang around like a bum looking for a handout. He was tired of arguing about whether the Confederate Battle Flag should be displayed, pro or con.

Why have a flag at all? Symbols divide. Wasn't it time to let the past be the past at last? Forget? Hell, Yes!

They-the ubiquitous, always brutish They-had turned the flag into something else long ago, not an ode to the Confederate dead but something with which to taunt the innocent living. They'd made it a bogeyman to scare some folks with, make others swagger, and embitter everybody.

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.