Another Inexplicable Loss

My friend and mentor, Jeff Zaslow, died yesterday in a car crash on the way home from a book signing in northern Michigan. He was 53. He leaves a wonderful wife and three daughters.

Jeff’s entire career was built on the quest to find the ways in which people derive meaning from the mundane. He wrote award-winning best-selling books and newspaper articles that millions of people cling to still. And in a split second, his car skidded on slick wintry roads, collided with a semi-truck, and his love of life was snuffed out like a flickering candle.

Is that how precious life is, that it can be extinguished in a heartbeat?

We waste so much time, then, worrying, agonizing, arguing and contemplating. We have minutes – mere minutes! – to make a difference. We assume we will have years and decades, that everyone will be like my grandmother, weeks away from her 90th birthday, but not everyone will.

I hate being reminded of this. I want to believe we have forever to love this life, to make a difference, to reach out to others.

Jeff’s latest book, The Magic Room, made me laugh and cry and treasure my children and my family that much more. I wrote him an email last month saying, “Thanks a lot. I’m only in the first chapter and already I’m crying.”

Jeff was generous, kind, strong. Countless times we met for coffee or lunch and he gave me advice on my career and life, and he never parsed words. When I went into PR, he asked point-blank, “Is this really what you want to do? Don’t you want to write?”

He knew me, somehow, better than I knew myself. And he wasn’t afraid to say it.

The last time I saw Jeff was over lunch a little more than a month ago. He confessed to being burnt out and we talked about how maybe he and Sherry, his lovely wife, should get away together for a little while and just breathe.

But still he continued on the path we all carve, the path to eventual stardom, so we think. He was actually a star, known around the world, his books translated into dozens of languages, his articles touching so many. Jeff was killed driving home from a book-signing in northern Michigan. In a minute, snuffed out, gone. The road he was driving, metaphorically speaking, ended abruptly.

Yesterday in my U of D class, I read a Thomas Lynch article with my students, about a man who died too soon. The article focused on how we follow routines all our lives with the belief that at the end, we will relax, celebrate, travel, that’s what we’re working for. But the subject of the article died before he could.

As did Jeff.

It makes me wonder what we’re doing all this for. Why not scoop up my kids, drop all this work and just be together every day, traveling the country and the world, writing the words Jeff knew I wanted and needed to play with as a lifeline, and LIVE.

If you have an answer, a reason why we should just continue plodding along in the mundane, let me know. Jeff would write about the beauty of the mundane, the meaning in the moments. But I just can’t make meaning of this.

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