A friend’s passing reminds me that life is precious | Entertainment/Life


When I emailed Chris Carduff last month about some writing projects, I didn’t know that his response would never be possible. Chris had died the same day, taken by a sudden illness that claimed him at 66.

Chris was the books editor of The Wall Street Journal, where I connected with him as an occasional contributor. He seemed to have read everything, as I was reminded last year when we discussed an author with an important Louisiana connection.

I had mentioned to Chris the Dutch writer Cees Nooteboom, who’s well known in his homeland, though not so much here. Nooteboom had gotten a boost some years ago after LSU Press published U.S. editions of several of his novels. When he visited Louisiana in 1995, Nooteboom credited LSU’s support as a game-changer.

Since Nooteboom still isn’t a household word among American readers, I thought it best to include some background when I emailed Chris about a story idea. But I should have known that wouldn’t be necessary. Chris said he’d enjoyed many of Nooteboom’s books and welcomed the chance to let others know about him, making room in his books pages for a review of the Dutch author’s latest work.

Few authors seemed to escape the attention of Chris, whose long career included distinguished roles in making, selling and writing about books. But what those who knew Chris mentioned most after his death was his kindness. He was patient, generous and supportive with the writers who worked for him, even under the strain of deadlines and the pressures of producing a newspaper during a pandemic.

This made me think of a distinction that New York Times columnist David Brooks made a few years ago between “résumé virtues” and “eulogy virtues.” Résumé virtues, Brooks explained, are the sharp skills we bring to the workplace. Eulogy virtues, on the other hand, are the ones people talk about at your funeral — “whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful.”

Brooks made the point that many of us focus on résumé virtues — the strengths we need to build impressive careers — but we often don’t pay much attention to the eulogy virtues that make us good people.

Chris Carduff had both a strong résumé and a great character, a mix that anyone would do well to emulate. His balance seemed deeply informed by his reading, which nudged him to focus on small graces others often overlooked.

Among his favorite writers was John Updike, whom Chris admired for describing everyday experience in a way that makes it seem worthy of respect. That ideal, which Updike called giving “the mundane its beautiful due,” is something that Chris seemed to regard as a kind of prayer.

Loss reminds us how precious life, in all its peculiar detail, really is. That windfall of wisdom has been a bitter gift since Chris died, but I suppose he’d want us to see it as a gift nonetheless.

Email Danny Heitman at [email protected].

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