06 October 2011

This Isn't About Steve Jobs

[We interrupt your regularly scheduled Jello World programming of all things writing-related for a moment of personal reflection.]

Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the past 24 hours, you know Steve Jobs (co-founder and CEO of Apple) died yesterday, following a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was only 56. My Facebook and Twitter feeds have been flooded with quotes, pictures, remembrances, tributes, etc. related to this fact. It has been touching. And I have to admit, it's hit a little harder for me than I ever thought possible. I'm not spiraling into depression over it or anything, but still. It hurts. But it really has very little to do with Steve Jobs at all.

I do not own - nor do I really have any particular affinity for - any Apple products. Seriously. Not even an iPod. While Jobs was certainly an innovator in his industry, and is an iconic figure of this generation, he's hardly the most influential, important, or inspirational person to have graced this earth. I don't say that to detract from his accomplishments or diminish the grief felt by so many at his passing. On the contrary, I think it elevates the public outpouring of sympathy and grief. We grieve for the loss of human life - you don't have to have worshiped the man to feel a sting of pain now that he's gone.

Like I said, it's not about Steve Jobs at all. It's about us, and the thread of humanity and life that connects us all as we each try to find our way. It's about recognizing in someone else a hint of something you feel strongly within yourself. What struck me about Jobs' passing is the fact that his last public appearance was in June, and then he stepped down from his position in August. Two months ago. That's no time at all.

This drives home two powerful lessons for me. First, the human spirit is something fierce. He was hard at work - doing a job that would probably give most of us ulcers - until mere weeks before his death. Patrick Swayze, who also died as a result of pancreatic cancer in 2009 at the age of 57, was hard at working filming a TV show within a year of his death. In the face of such obstacles, we - human beings - can still do so much.

My mother-in-law, Elizabeth Dolk
Second, pancreatic cancer is a bitch. It's unfair. It sucks more than any amount of expletives can possibly convey. My mother-in-law passed away from pancreatic cancer a few years ago. It was only a few short months between diagnosis and her final days. She was 62. I've been pausing to wipe away tears the whole time I've been writing this post, because there's still a lot of grief and anger there for me. Pancreatic cancer is a beast of a disease that can steal the light from a person's eyes in such a short amount of time. It can overtake even the strongest of spirits and before you know it, the person is gone. My mother-in-law, Elizabeth. Steve Jobs. Luciano Pavarotti. Patrick Swayze. Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch. And so many, many more. Just gone. That's terrifying.

But as much as this isn't about Steve Jobs, it isn't about cancer, either. It's about the dichotomy of being connected to the world while carving out your own space. It's about the ability to feel sorrow (or love, or anything, for that matter) for someone you may have never met, whose life may never have even impacted yours in any significant way, but who you know has touched others, and who is like you if for no other reason than you belong to the same species. It's knowing that none of us is a solitary creature (no matter how much I try to be, sometimes.) Some of us make waves while others make small ripples, but always know your life - my life - affects someone. Sometimes the thread of humanity that connects us all is there, glinting in the sun so that we can't deny its existence, but other times it's barely discernible. But it's always there. I have moments where I feel it so strongly it nearly suffocates me and I push it away, out of sight, afraid of what that connection means - afraid of what potential commitments or obligations (or opportunities to hurt, disappoint, or injure) I fear are hidden in that little thread.

Sometimes I feel crippled by the simple fact that you are human just like me. There, I said it. But what does that even mean? It means I live a cautious life - one full of admiration and love and affection for others, but one where I'm afraid to make those waves, or even tiny ripples, for fear of adversely affecting anyone else, because I sure as hell don't want to be negatively affected by anyone else's actions.

One of the quotes from Steve Jobs that I've seen a lot of since last night is this:
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.
How much more fitting does it get? It's such a duh sentiment, but it's still like a punch in the gut. It was like Steve Jobs was speaking to me from the grave. I did a little digging and found more of his speech from the 2005 Commencement at Stanford:
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
I didn't hear or read his speech when he gave it. It took his death to bring those words to me. It's been an emotional 24 hours inside my head. And even though Steve Jobs said those words, I'll say this again:

This isn't about Steve Jobs. It isn't about cancer. It isn't even about death.

This is about life.

So if you'll pardon me, I have some living to do. I hope you do, too.


  1. A beautiful post. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Great Post! Open and raw, true and heartfelt. Thank you.

  3. O.O

    Wow. I've just got to say, this was a seriously amazing post. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  4. *blush* Thanks so much, Masako. I'm glad you got something from it.


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