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Posts Tagged ‘Newspapers’

Death comes to visit the living – Jeff Zaslow’s tragic passing.

This blog post is dedicated to someone I knew only through his writing. Jeff Zaslow was a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. His untimely death occurred Friday February 10. The words are not mine but someone who knew the deceased well, who worked with him, shared good times with him and admired him.

Neil Steinberg is also a columnist for the Sun-Times and a damned good one as was Jeff Zaslow. Since this is my blog and I can post anything I care to, here is Neil’s column from the February 15 edition of the Chicago Sun Times.

Ludwick Wittgenstein’s Tractus Logico- Philosophicus is a list of numbered propositions, each leading to the next. Number 6.4311 begins “Death is not an event in life. Death is not lived through.” For the person who has died, that is. That person is whisked away to whatever reward awaits us after death.

It is those of us who live through death, big time, who must cope with it, particularly accidental death, which radiates outward, sending shock waves, first to those at the scene, stunned to find death intruding onto an ordinary day. Then to the oficialdom who must deal with death regularly and handle the particulars. Then exploding into the lives of family, who suffer the most and, finally the thunderclap reaches the outer world, where people hear it and look up, moved to the degree they knew the deceased.

Jeff Zaslow died in a car accident Friday, as you’ve probably heard. Longtime Sun-Times readers will fondly recall his thoughtful, human and funny advice column that ran from 1987 until 2001, or his best selling books such as The Last Lecture.

I don’t do grief well–I’m self-centered and over-analytical, a bad mix–and no sooner feel loss then immediately start  questioning it, to see if it’s legitimate. Jeff’s death came as a sickening shock, yet I instantly pulled back, certain that I occupy  too distant an orbit among his concentric circles of friends to be entitled to feel awful, which is reserved for his wife and daughters and family, the true epicenter of suffering. Any hurt I feel must be ersatz, overdramatic.

No matter How I tried to focus my  thoughts on others–Jeff’s genius, the key to his life: he was a big-hearted, generous man, a true friend–I kept returning  to my own experiences with him. Memories bubbled up, random stuff. as if my brain were venting everything it knew about Jeff Zaslow, from the fact  that at birth, he was delivered by Dr. C. Everett Koop, the future Surgeon General, to his sister’s hand-made picture frames, to his love of Bruce Springsteen–we once went to a concert together–to the day, almost 25 years ago, Jeff was being given his welcoming tour of the Sun-Times newsroom and I hurried over, curious to discover just what kind of idiot leaves a job writing front page stories for the Wall Street Journal to advise women how to get stains out of a broadloom rug on page 27 of the Sun-Times.

If a Russian novelist tried to create two separate characters to split the spectrum of qualities a writer can possess, might cook up Jeff–happy, concerned for others, frenetic, sincere–and me: melancholy, self-absorbed, shambling, scarcastic. Jeff wanted to help everybody. He held  those enormous Zass Bashes at Navy Pier because he got so many letters from lonely people, and wanted to fix them up with each other, to give each one a shot at the joy he found with his own wife, Sherry. I thought he was crazy. “Jeff”, I’d say. “You’re not a social service.”

When I got the awful news–we have the same literary agency–I dutifully phoned it in to the newspaper. “Do you want to write something?” an editor asked. I said “No.” The planet of my ego is such– think Jupiter–I knew it would be impossible to launch a tribute to Jeff without having it circle back and crash into myself. “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” is the final line of Wittgenstein’s book. Good advice. I wanted to honor Jeff by shutting up, an under appreciated art form.

But silence felt even worse. We Jews bury our own, and standing at Jeff’s graveside, mutely waiting for my turn with the shovel, I stared at my shoes and tried to block out the sound of his daughters weeping. “This is the worst thing in the world,” I thought. “I hate this I hate this I hate this”.

Silence has no utility, it isn’t a sharp enough blade to scrape at the icy loss that Jeff’s death frosts over the world. I wish I could wrap this up tidily, with an inspiring  thought that counterbalances the tragedy in the world and leaves you with a smile. Jeff was so good at that. Alas, he is not here, a hard fact that touches on the often cruel nature of life, one that we lucky enough to have known Jeff will struggle with for a long time.

Thanx, Neil for allowing me to share this with my small group of bloggerfriends. If my mother were still alive and I could have read her this column, she would have said to me in Yiddish “Gut Gazooked”…roughly translated as “Well said”.

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