The other morning I woke up early, splashed awake by a wave of sadness. At first I couldn't identify where the feeling originated.
I did a quick inventory. I was OK. My husband and kids were OK. None of my friends were experiencing any more crises than ordinary. Why the despair?
Then I remembered. Randy Pausch and Jose Simon were dead.
By now almost everyone knows who Randy Pausch was. A stellar college professor, he was a standout in his field of computer animation and virtual reality. He was largely unknown outside of his academic sphere until September 2007 when he gave his "last lecture."
He had been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer but the speech was not about dying. It was a reminder of how life ought to be lived, about how to achieve one's childhood dreams. Someone had the foresight to film the talk and the video went viral. To date it's been downloaded more than 10 million times.
I evangelically forwarded the video link to everyone in my address book. I wrote a column about it. When the book inspired by the lecture was released, I bought the CD version and eagerly played it in the truck as I went about my day.
For a while, Randy was a daily companion, a cheerleader encouraging me to "break down the brick walls. They're just there to stop people who don't want things as badly as you do."
If anyone was deserving of a miracle, this was the man. I halfway convinced myself that maybe he'd beat the odds or there'd be a medical breakthrough. Something.
But no, this was real life, and on July 25, Randy Pausch, age 47, father of three, lost his heroic struggle with cancer. A person I had never met had enhanced my life and the lives of so many others.
I never met Jose Simon, either. I only spoke to him once and that was about something mundane like selling Seabiscuit racehorse memorabilia on eBay. That doesn't mean I didn't know him, however.
Jose's wife, Gail, owns a wholesale clothing business in San Francisco. I started shopping with her more than 10 years ago, purchasing in bulk to sell in my shop and on eBay. She has one of those delightful phone voices, the kind where she doesn't have to identify herself. By the third syllable, you know it's Gail on the phone.
Over time, we became friends and I learned all about her family. Her husband, Jose, was a comedian.
He had come to the U.S. from Mexico as a teenager and initially worked as a musician. He performed with Four of a Kind, which featured future Tower of Power vocalist Rick Stevens and a founding member of Santana, conga player Michael Carabello. Early on, he established a pattern for his life, unselfishly helping others achieve success.
Comedian Robin Williams was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle: "Jose was a gift. He was the Chicano godfather of comedy. He will be missed."
A search of quotation Web sites reveals that he's the originator of the line, "In Mexico we have a word for sushi: Bait."
Each year, Gail would invite us to San Francisco for Comedy Day, a daylong free festival of humor held in Golden Gate Park. It was founded by Jose in 1980 and now up to 50,000 people attend the annual event. What a wonderful legacy. At last year's celebration, Jose was presented with the Stand-up Comedy Legend Award.
There was always a reason why we couldn't make it. The airfare was too expensive. It takes place in September, making a cross-country trip difficult right after the beginning of the school term. Each year I said the same thing. Maybe next year.
I didn't talk to Gail for a few weeks and then one day in July she called with the news. Jose had died. Another remarkable life claimed by cancer.
So there I was, sitting in the predawn darkness, feeling bereft at the loss of two people I'd never met. They were gone but their message remained: Life's meant to be enjoyed. Laugh a lot and help others every chance you get.
As Randy Pausch said, "If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you."
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears regularly and on gainesvilletimes.com.