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160 Miles Northwest of Lansing

160 miles northwest of Lansing: That’s where Jeff Zaslow was when he died. He was travelling alone to do a reading about his latest book when he lost control of his car, slid into the path of a semi and was instantly killed.

His wife and three daughters buried him on Monday. Those of us who knew him from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists were hoping that the eulogy by Sully Sullenburger would be videotaped. It wasn’t. We felt connected to him. He came to all the conferences. I remember him speaking at the 2006 NSNC Conference in Boston that Suzette Martinez Standring and I co-chaired, where Arianna Huffington also spoke, and we visited the home of John and Abigail Adams and their son John Quincy.

It seems only a minute ago now, 2006. Jeff’s career was just taking off: under his belt already were his winning the nationwide competition to replace Ann Landers and also his regular gig with the Wall Street Journal. Still ahead: his writing of The Last Lecture, about the beloved Carnegie Mellon Professor Randy Pausch. Also The Girls of Ames, and the book about Sully Sullenberger; the book he did with Gabby Gifford and this latest one about fathers and how they do love their daughters. (They are all here. And here is his wonderful face as he stood with Randy in 2007.

The Magic Room: that’s the book he was promoting when he skidded on that snowy rode in northern Michigan. The email entitled “Our friend Jeff Zaslow has died” appeared in my inbox Saturday morning and I felt the air rush from my lungs. It came from the folks in the NSNC member, the same people I was with when word came of Michael Jackson’s death. The same people I was with in ’94 as a fugitive OJ Simpson attempted to outrun law enforcement.

But this felt different. This felt personal, and not just because I knew him to be the kindest most gracious man, who wore his success so lightly. It felt personal to me because I identified with Jeff: the way both of us did book after book, then drove all over the map through snow and darkness to meet with 12 or 15 strangers and talk a while of what matters most in life. Sure there were differences. He had a real publisher doing his books and he made real money. I published my stuff through my own imprint and basically lost money. Still I read this story of his final minutes and I thought that could be me.

I think how close I came to dying that time on the Pennsylvania Turnpike when a legendary November blizzard blew in and I still tried crossing from Erie to State College to Allentown in it, the whole breadth of that big long cow of a state. The long-haul truckers were the only other vehicles on the road in that blinding snowstorm.

I think how close I came the time I almost smashed into the guardrail of the Sunshine Skyway just south of St. Petersburg going 60 miles an hour before I woke and saw where the car was veering.

I read back to all my laments here about doing too much and then having sleep elude me and a cold chill runs through my body. I haven’t died yet from some crazy self-inflicted moonshine of a mission but it’s not too late, it is surely not too late.

Jeff did die and how the world will miss him and those three daughters especially whose hearts will never again be young.

Remembering about him these last days I came upon a post I wrote when Michael Jackson died and we were together in Ventura. What’s eerie is that Jeff is in it too, in the sense that I named him as the author of The Last Lecture and then posted the video of Randy Pausch, weakened by the cancer that claimed him so young, taking the podium at the last commencement he would attend at his beloved Carnegie Mellon, thinner and fainter of voice than he had been but still so full of life.

We live until we die, they say and the emphasis is on the word ‘live’. We’re meant to live each day to the fullest. We owe at least that much to God, who I always imagine standing to one side watching us, and just sort of shyly hoping that we liked it well enough here, and noticed everything, and felt happy and joyful as often as we could.

Now here is the post from June of ’08 with Michael, and Randy, and Jeff in it that, eerily, enough is about how it is for children to lose their father young, and here below is Randy Pausch on YouTube in a video that more than 14 million people have looked at.

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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The Freelance Retort

Because one minute you're a baby and the next you're getting the senior discount - and there's no reversing direction!

uppervalleygirl

Another Good Day in Rural America . . . . . . . © 2012, 2013, 2014 Ann Aikens ~ all rights reserved

Eating The Week

Week-size morsels of the stuff we eat

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