When somebody dies, we tell his story and try to define and isolate what was special about it—what it was he brought to the party, how he enhanced life by showing up. In this way we educate ourselves about what really matters. Or, often, re-educate ourselves, for "man needs more to be reminded than instructed."
I understand why some think that the media coverage surrounding Tim Russert's death was excessive—truly, it was unprecedented—but it doesn't seem to me a persuasive indictment, if only because what was said was so valuable.
The beautiful thing about the coverage was that it offered extremely important information to those age 15 or 25 or 30 who may not have been told how to operate in the world beyond "Go succeed." I'm not sure we tell the young as much as we ought, as clearly as we ought, what it is the world admires, and what it is they want to emulate.
In a way, the world is a great liar. It shows you it worships and admires money, but at the end of the day it doesn't. It says it adores fame and celebrity, but it doesn't, not really. The world admires, and wants to hold on to, and not lose, goodness. It admires virtue. At the end it gives its greatest tributes to generosity, honesty, courage, mercy, talents well used, talents that, brought into the world, make it better. That's what it really admires.
That's what we talk about in eulogies, because that's what's important. We don't
say, "The thing about Joe was he was rich." We say, if we can, "The thing about
Joe was he took care of people."
I encourage you to visit the WSJ to read the rest of the column.