In Memory

James Zazzera

James Zazzera

As I age, fewer and fewer of my own words seem to be able to carry the freight of life.
Only silence does that for me. Yet, there are those whose words can shine a light into our
moments. So I offer you these thoughts from Irish Poet/Philosopher/Theologian John
O’Donahue from his blessing, “At The End Of The Year” :

As this year draws to its end,
We give thanks for the gifts it brought
And how they became inlaid within
Where neither time nor tide can touch them.

The days when the veil lifted
And the soul could see delight;
When a quiver caressed the heart
In the sheer exuberance of being here.

Surprises that came awake
In forgotten corners of old fields
Where expectation seemed to have quenched.

The slow, brooding times
When all was awkward
And the wave in the mind
Pierced every sore with salt.

The darkened days that stopped
The confidence of the dawn.

Days when beloved faces shone brighter
With light from beyond themselves;
And from the granite of some secret sorrow
A stream of buried tears loosened.

We bless this year for all we learned,
For all we loved and lost
And for the quiet way it brought us
Nearer to our invisible destination.

Lots of thoughts come to me at the end of the year.
Lots of things remind me of how quickly time passes.

Our high school classes having 50th reunions. Several people dear to us died or were
celebrated in this year. Almost every one of our contemporaries is now retired. I am now
presiding at ceremonies for people renewing their wedding vows rather than getting
married. Our visits to medical professionals continue to increase.

Our hearts fill with joy thinking about the time we can be with our children and
grandchildren and fill with sadness for times we wish we could be with family members
but cannot. I am reminded that even the closest relationships are expressions of both
shelter and shadow.

A large part of our life this year was connecting, celebrating, and growing with our
family. A visit from Jack and Elliot to enjoy 5 days in Sacramento with Uma (Lena) and
Papa (Jim). A trip for Jim to visit Disney World and Giants baseball in Florida with Aaron
and Owen. Many birthdays and times of fun in San Diego. A family gathering in
Nashville. An annual reunion of friends & family called the Zephyr Point Crew.

As we have eased into a (somewhat) post pandemic world Lena and I have remained
committed to life learning through travel. This year we spent 6 weeks in the UnIted
Kingdom—with time in Wales, England, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. We were 30
miles from Balmoral at the time of the Queen’s death and witnessed all variety of
responses to the monarchy and the country’s loss. Lena and I were bowled over by the
stark beauty of the Scottish coast and its islands. We rejoiced in many happy hours hiking
in England’s Lake District, rambling though the quaint countryside of the Cotswolds, and
being surprised by how much there is to discover in even a brief walk through the hills of

Though this part of our trip was interrupted by our individual bouts with COVID, we
were touched by the ancient and modern history of Northern Ireland, from St. Patrick in
the 5th Century to “The Troubles” of the 20th century. Walking mural filled
neighborhoods, visiting ancient sites, and listening to poets, storytellers and religious and
political leaders—we got a better sense of how rich, nuanced, and complex Irish history

Our time in the UK was filled with so much—from Sunday roast to Highland Games,
from the Rosetta Stone to Harry Potter, from contemporary jazz music in a Scottish town
hall to a Baroque ensemble in a wonderful London church setting. We had a delightful
visit to a small town called Odiham (an hour outside of London) with good friends who
gave us a window into their lives there over many decades. What privilege every one of
these experiences is to us!

Lena’s life is full of friends and rich with activity. From visual art to language lessons,
from a book group to a church small group, from quiet meditation to walking with long
time friends. Lena and I continue to find that there is much to discover about each other.
It is a rich time of exploring ideas, sharing thoughts, and taking on activities we have not
yet tried. Though we are far from daredevils, we continue to work in a snowshoe trip here
or a hike there. Mostly, we are still (joyfully) learning what it means to love.

As I have said before, we love all of our children and grandchildren immensely. We hope
you will have to opportunity to hear them tell their own stories.
I started writing this letter around December 10th, then later that week something
happened which has forever changed our lives…

As a follow up to a few medical issues I was having, my doctor ordered an abdominal
ultrasound. It was through that test the we got the first confirmation of what we now
know to be certain. I (Jim) have pancreatic cancer. If you would like to know more
medical details and where things stand in terms of treatment, I would encourage you to
read more about my story as I have posted it at the at the CaringBridge Site. Here is the

When I think about all this, I have lots of thoughts, lots of emotions, lots of fears. It is a
lot for Lena and me and our family to carry. There are frequent tears. Many of you have
already helped us by reaching out with your love.

I’m not sure I am ready for too many theological/philosophical reflections on all of this yet. All I know is that we are moving into mystery but trusting love—yours and God’s. For now, this will have to be enough.

I am praying — though probably in the most fumbling of ways. I like how Irish writer Pádraig Ó Tuama puts it in his book In the Shelter:

Neither I nor the poets I love have found the keys to the kingdom of prayer and we
cannot force God to stumble over us where we sit. But I know that it's a good idea
to sit anyway. So every morning, I kneel, waiting, making friends with the habit of
listening, hoping that I'm being listened to. There, I greet God in my own disorder.
I say hello to my chaos, my unmade decisions, my unmade bed, my desire and my
trouble. I say hello to distraction and privilege, I greet the day and I greet my
beloved and bewildering Jesus. I recognize and greet my burdens, my luck, my
controlled and uncontrollable story. I greet my untold stories, my unfolding story,
my unloved body, my own body. I greet the things I think will happen and I say
hello to everything I do not know about the day. I greet my own small world and I
hope that I can meet the bigger world that day. I greet my story and hope that I can
forget my story during the day, and hope that I can hear some stories, and greet
some surprising stories during the long day ahead. I greet God, and I greet the
God who is more God than the God I greet.

We love you all. May you know the God who is even more than the God you greet.

Love, Grace, & Peace,

Jim & Lena Zazzera

Jim email: , phone: 916.813.1273
Lena email:, phone: 916.212.2043
Address: 3413 Noblessa Way, Rancho Cordova, CA 95670

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01/21/23 09:50 AM #1    

Leslie Bowdoin (James)

I have no words to describe my reaction on reading this amazing letter from Jim.   He is able to describe so much and so well the year I have just finished.  From getting into bed and seeing my dear Mick pass without a sign, to losing our son J.D.'s rescue dog 3 months later, and last but not least the lightening of watching my sister Deana's murderer's execution just 5 days after Mick's funeral, the only words I can find are "please give me grace".    Thank you, Jim, for being able to help those of us less eloquent, to try to understand this year, and the days and years to come.    One day at a time.

01/22/23 08:51 AM #2    

Paul Robb

Jim sent me a note over two years ago. It was our first contact since high school. Soon we were chatting periodically over the phone. I looked forward to our calls. He was so thoughtful interesting, and wise. He loved traveling, learning about other cultures, history, social justice, and hiking. When we spoke last month Jim shared where his next adventure would take him.

He emailed soon after to inform me of his Stage 4 Pancreatic cancer diagnosis. The Caring Bridge comments revealed how loved and revered he is by so many.   

During his travels he’d share his musings in a blog accompanied by fantastic photos. It inspired me to create the following Youtube video set to Marc Cohn’s Walk Through The World. I hope you watch it and see how Jim celebrated life to the fullest.

He will be missed by many, including me.

01/31/23 07:00 AM #3    

Jill Sanborne

Jim Zazzera was my friend in high school. I got to know him in my junior and senior years, two of my favorite years in my life, the years when I finally felt like I belonged, when I was "coming of age." We were part of an ecclectic mix of amazing students and felt lucky to be included. We were earnest, we cared deeply about social justice and expected to change the world, loved nature and seemed to laugh a lot. I remember so many things. The Hiking Club backpacked across the Grand Canyon like we were mountain goats! I remember that the Leo Club went up to Cornville, camping overnight to pick mistletoe to sell to you all to raise money for a drug rehab facility, and how crazy fun the trip was. I remember our going to The Casa to listen to and sing along with a young and bearded monk with a guitar. I remember hanging out and long heartfelt discussions about life, love and God. Jim had the rare gift of being a good listener and listened with compassion to my teenage woes. Jim had so many questions and hopes and, in reading his memoriam, I learn that he has continued this quest for the meaning of life and giving to others. I am inspired and I miss him. I recently reread through the lovely and, often hilarious, comments that were written in my yearbook and remember that between friends those were the days of "I love you" and "thank you!" I am grateful for Jim and all of you.

Although Jim Zazzera was a good friend, following graduation we all scattered and I wish I'd known how to keep in touch with him and many others. I didn't know how then. My broken heart is gladdened by the happiness that Jim's wife Lena and children have clearly given him. I smiled at Jim's familiar grin in the travel and hiking photos that Paul Robb put together to music and that you should see and hear, too, from Paul's contribution to Jim's memoriam. Paul, you're a gifted guy. They lifted my heart and I am grateful to "see" Jim's face again after so long and getting to "know" Lena through her smile. Thank you for letting me speak about Jim.

01/31/23 09:17 PM #4    

John Wharton

Lovely letter Jim.  Peace to you and your loved ones.

Nice job Paul.  Great pics..  Nice.

02/09/23 12:08 PM #5    

Scott DeWald

I dearly loved Jim Zazzera. He was one of the most positive and kind human beings I ever knew,  beaming with that big smile​, arms open with palms up as if to say "really, why not give it a shot?" and the way he would sometimes bend over laughing.​ To say he had a high sensitivity to morality—thinking about doing the right thing in ways big and small—is an understatement; anyone who read his annual Christmas letter was reminded that he was both deeply self-searching and tirelessly expressive. He was all about love, to his dearly loved wife and kids, for fellow humans, friends, his church. My memories with ​him ​stretch ​way back (in reverse chronological order) to the last dinner my wife and I shared with Jim and Lena about 5 years ago, a visit with ​my kids and their kids in his backyard and pool​ more than 10 years before that, a visit in Chicago when Jim was in divinity school more than 10 years before that, a visit on the East Coast when he was returning from living in Iran (he brought me a hat made from yak hair)  6 years before that, his wedding in Portland, a rainy night in a leaky tent on Mount Lemmon with Jim, my brother, and upperclassman Kent Olson, and, of course, high school (at La Casa, in the hiking and Leo clubs, and classes)  There was something about Jim​'s sincerity, his constant pursuit of leading a good ​and meaningful life, a combination of conscience, humility, presence, and fun, his optimism, his caring attitude, his nonstop talking about love.

I wish Jim had been able to attend our recent reunion, and the fact that we all missed that chance reminds me of our own mortality. In death, and in life, Jim has had a profound and positive effect on me. 

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02/10/23 09:05 AM #6    

Renee Ripley

I always remember his lovely smile!!

02/10/23 07:32 PM #7    

Kenneth Murphy, COL, Us Army (Ret) (Murphy)

I can't say I knew this lad. But what an incredible memorial and legacy of wisdom and prose here. Must have been a thoughtful dyna.ic man. Rest in Peace.

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