Tim Russert doing what he did best, interviewing the most powerful figures in American politics. Photo of Russert and President George W. Bush by White House photographer Eric Draper | AP. Below: Russert by Kathy Willens | AP.
I read that Tim Russert died while I was in the midst of covering a severe thunderstorm passing over the Ichthus Festival last Friday, so there was only a minute to take in the shock and the loss before getting back to work.
Over the last week, there's been plenty of time to absorb my own feelings and those of many others. The consensus, which I wholeheartedly agree with, is that we have lost a smart, objective and incisive voice in political journalism. He was instructive and challenging in an era where both pundits and viewers seem more and more inclined to scurry to their ideological corners.
As a self-proclaimed political junkie, I'll miss Russert, and it's a particularly cruel twist of fate to us and him that we lose him in the midst of the most historic Presidential election in most of our lifetimes.
But Russert's passing has also served as a wake-up call to me, and I would guess maybe others.
It's a call I made to my doctor.
Russert suffered from heart disease. No, this isn't the story of a middle-aged, overweight workaholic that didn't take care of himself. By most accounts, including NBC News medical editor Nancy Snyderman on the Today show, he was aware of what ailed him and he was treated for it, exercised and watched what he ate.
But either something was missed, or something was going to happen no matter what.
"This is a very sad statement that underscores the humbleness and the humility of medicine," Snyderman said on Today, "that as much as we want to do right by every patient, there are some things that slip by us, and perhaps this is the reminder to all of us that there's a higher order."
The saddest thing in Russert's passing is not the loss to politics or journalism. It's the loss to a family that by all accounts had a great husband, father and son. Russert had a life of professional accomplishment and family harmony so many of us aspire to, and we want those lives to be complete.
My father died of a heart attack when I was 12, and since then I have missed him more than anyone knows. I missed him at graduations, seeing me get my first job, my wedding, the births of my children, and I have simply missed his presence, love and counsel, though God has blessed me with a great father in-law and brother in-law.
This is not a family history I want to repeat, and reviewing the life of Russert, I know there are things he wanted to see and experience with his family. You think about the future when a little pain swells in your chest or you have a few minutes where a deep breath is out of your reach.
Maybe sometimes we are over reliant on celebrity tragedies as reminders to take care of ourselves when we know, for instance, millions of people die from heart disease every year, and we know what's going on inside ourselves.
But better that than no wake up call. So I am going to talk to my doctor about a few things maybe I have been ignoring too long. There will probably be others that will do the same, taking cues from Russert's passing. ABC News reports doctors are already seeing a Russert effect.
It's the little something we can gain from this tragic loss.