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.

Advertisements

9 thoughts on “160 Miles Northwest of Lansing

  1. The key to understanding the seemingly senseless death in freak car accident of Jeffrey Zaslow (1958-2012) . and sir, there is no God. please understand.

    Fact: Barbara Becker Mueller of Becker’s Bridal, the shop that the MAGIC ROOM is about, and who also drove up to Petoskey on Thursday for the wine and cheese book signing and talk at McLean and Eakin bookstore in the Gaslight District, had joined Jeff at the book signing Thursday night in Petoskey, and they were supposed to have breakfast the following Friday morning, as arranged.

    But ….. and here is the Thornton Wilder ”BRIDGE AT SAN LUIS REY” moment ……fate….destiny…..call it what you will……call it meaningful….call it meaningless…call it the Great Purpose …..call it absolute meaningless of human existence in a universe devoid of meaning…….. oi……Jeff called Barbara in his usual sweet and candid way ….they were friends……and said sorry, another time, and that “he was nervous about the roads and wanted to leave so he could be home when his daughter got out of school.”

    And a few nanoseconds of cosmic time later, perhaps 3o minutes later in real time, he was not in this world anymore……

      1. unbearable YES,,,,re Thornton Wilder ”BRIDGE AT SAN LUIS REY” …..i feel this book holds a key to Jeff’s death too…..SIGH

  2. Terry, correction later re: “……He was travelling alone to do a reading about his latest book ….”

    No, he drove up there on Thursday, attended a wine and cheese party at Mclean and Eakin bookstore in the Gaslight District on Thursday night from 6 pm to 8 pm and then went back to his hotel room. On Friday he returning home from Petoskey when the accident happned… maybe correct this later….danny bloom in taiwan, proofreader and truth teller,

  3. yes feel free to write me Terry at danbloom AT gmail DOT com

    I am in Taiwan, reporter here, friend of Jeff’s too, from 2008 and on…. a good man gone too soon, SIGH

  4. Some good news out of all this sadness: ”A scholarship awarded annually to a college newspaper columnist by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists will be renamed to honor Jeffrey Zaslow, the West-Bloomfield based author and Wall Street Journal columnist who died in a northern Michigan car crash last Friday.”

    ”The Jeff Zaslow College Columnist Award will be granted annually to three students who write a general interest, editorial page or Op-Ed column for college or university undergraduate newspapers. First prize is $1,000. Second prize is $500 and third prize is $250.”

  5. Good news out of bad news: College scholarship renamed to honor Jeffrey Zaslow

    A scholarship awarded annually to a college newspaper columnist by the
    National Society of Newspaper Columnists will be renamed to honor
    Jeffrey Zaslow, the West-Bloomfield based author and Wall Street
    Journal columnist who died in a northern Michigan car crash last
    Friday.

    The Jeff Zaslow College Columnist Award will be granted annually to
    three students who write a general interest, editorial page or Op-Ed
    column for college or university undergraduate newspapers. First prize
    is $1,000. Second prize is $500 and third prize is $250.

    more information is available at http://www.columnists.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s