Think of this as Volume 15, Number 42 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I've written since 1997. Enjoy.
By that I mean I was born a few months before Jobs, also in 1955, and I'm still around while he is no more.
We were both born at the height of the Baby Boom. It peaked that year for boys, and two years later for girls. We've always been acutely aware of what that means. The culture of the boom was made by others, and we have lived feeling some responsibility for it, in a world not of our making.
We are 70s people, not 60s folks. We did some things in our youth, but most of us pulled away in time, and taught our children fearsome tales that have kept them from drawing outside the lines. Many of us – Steve included – have thus spent our lives in rebellions against ourselves, and our contemporaries.
What struck many of us, people my age and younger, about Steve's death was his 2005 Stanford speech. It was controversial when it was given, because many friends insisted it was not written in Steve's authentic voice, but in the idealistic voice of a man speaking at his own funeral. “That's not the real guy,” my sources said. “He's not that nice.”
But we're all nicer, in our hearts, than we appear to others. I'm sure even Gathafi thinks he is a good guy. We're all able to fool ourselves into thinking that the image we portray is our real image, not the image of us that others see. And this lets us see ourselves as heroes in our own stories, our failures as our victimization, our choices as inevitable.
The line that is most quoted about Steve's self-eulogy is the one about living every day as though it might be your last, of living every day being conscious of death, and asking yourself, in that moment, if this is what you really want to be doing. If the curtain fell right now is this what you'd like it to fall on.
Death, and the relative imminence of it for all of us, is not something any of us like to think about. Yet it defines how most of us live. If you believe that this life is a test, and only those who pass that test will know peace, then you live your life trying very hard to make others see the test before them. If that test is, “believe as I do or die,” you might find your highest-and-best-self to be picketing a funeral, even Steve Jobs' funeral, to get the message out. On the other hand if you're a Buddhist as Steve was, you might find death to be peace, and seek action knowing that permanent inaction is rushing toward you.
This is not a blog about religion. I don't want to argue that, or even ethics, with you.
Instead, I just want to argue, from Steve's life, toward mindfulness. Toward simply, being aware of your own life as you live it, making each day as positive an experience for yourself and those around you as you possibly can.
I don't know when this became my top priority. Probably it happened at the turn of the century, when I learned I'm hyper-tense, have a cholesterol count like a 1990s Internet stock, and that combined with my ADHD means I am what I am. I decided, around that time, to start enjoying what I am.
Enjoying what we are, even while striving to be a little bit more, is a mind trick. We all have thousands of crazy voices in our heads, and the trick is to still those voices, to turn the jumble into a chorus, and to have that chorus humming about us while we do what we can to enjoy each day.
For instance. I care about what I write. I care about what I'm writing now. But when I finish this post, I'm going to leave it and move on to something else, which I will care equally about. I no longer obsess over the medium I write in, or my place in that world, or demand that the world see me as a rare genius toiling in anonymity, a Kafka or Van Gogh yet to be discovered by later generations. I don't care about that. I care about what I'm writing now, today, this moment, I care about it deeply. And then I move on.
I now try to do other things in the same spirit. I took my wife out to dinner last night. We've been together over 35 years. I usually work in a t-shirt and jeans. But yesterday I put on a suit, to surprise her, and as I walked to the restaurant I took in the sunny weather, I spoke kindly to people I saw on the train and to the guard at the building where the restaurant is located. I was rewarded later when, upon walking out, the guard recognized me, and asked about how I was, and smiled.
Little things. Life is a collection of little things, individual moments rather than grand themes. The themes are for others to discover. Our job is to live each moment as completely as we can, with as much joy as we can, and transmit that joy to others so they can have their own moments.
A small lesson. Even silly. But it brings me back around to my neighbor Cantrell Johnson. He's been my neighbor for 30 years. Life has been hard on him. He's poor, without much education, he has relatives in poor health and he's diabetic himself. But he goes to work every day with a smile, he preaches joy in his church and in his home. He's the happiest man I know, and the most like Jesus, or rather the kind of man Jesus wants us to be, the kind he looked up to and maybe wished he were, rather than the Christ.
Rev. Johnson's life is as much a success as Steve Jobs' was, because the collected moments resonate with those around him, and will live on in their hearts forever. His children and grandchildren will rise up to call him blessed, and I've been blessed to know him.
Can your neighbors say the same of you? If they can't you have work to do. But it's work you can do. Make today better for yourself, try to make it better for others, and then if it turns out to be your last day it will have been a good day, and yours a life worth living.