‘Even those people who want to go to heaven, don’t want to die to get there.’ Steve Jobs, Stanford Commencement Address 2005
Like most of the world, I woke up last week to the shock and sorrow that a man I had never met, Steve Jobs, had passed away. And like most of us, I felt as sad as if I had lost a personal friend. I will not attempt to eulogize him any further – in the past few days people from all over the planet have paid their tributes. Certainly, the world has lost a visionary far before his time. Certainly, had he lived, he would have continued to generate the remarkable ideas and products that have impacted all of our lives and made us mourn as if for someone we knew.
But truth be told, in addition to my sadness, I felt something else. Something that I think that others like me might also have felt, and that is fear. Because, like Mr. Jobs, like far too many whose lives have been struck by that range of disease we know as cancer, I too am a survivor. Most days the breast cancer I had is but a background memory – one that plays only a tiny role in my life and reminds me to get regular checkups. Still, all it takes is news of the premature death of someone from the ‘Big C’ to catapult this bit player to front and center stage. The thought of it is always waiting in the wings, despite constant (and in my case, largely successful) attempts to banish it. Banished from my body, it nonetheless rests in the back of my mind and comes forth when even a stranger dies.
No doubt, one need not be a survivor to experience this fear. Death is shocking, even when expected and doubly so when it is premature and robs us of someone who touched our lives. I must have watched Job’s brilliant Commencement Address at least three times since last week and the part in which he speaks about death resonates deeply. Receiving his doctor’s diagnosis ‘to put his affairs in order’ one of Steve’s first thoughts was how to tell his children in a few months everything he thought he would have years to tell them. Maybe I imagined it, but it seemed to me that he choked up a bit or at least had to swallow hard to get through that part of the speech. I understand.
Since beginning this blog, I’ve been asked many times why I never write about having had cancer. The answer would have to be, because I don’t really want to. I don’t dwell on death and the cancer is not that important a part of my life. I look after my health and it is excellent, the cancer I’ve overcome enjoys an ever-improving rate of remission and complete cure.
Yet what I ultimately took away from Job’s talk is something that I too have experienced: yes, death scares us, yes, we dread it. Still, the idea of death is the ultimate freedom. Used wisely, it is an incredible tool to live life. Early in his youth Steve said he was touched by the idea of ‘living as if each day was your last.’ We all know what that meant for Steve Job’s remarkable life, but we must each define it for ourselves. For me, it doesn’t mean jetting off around the world or indulging my every whim. It’s about normality, hopefully with an enhanced appreciation for the little joys – for fresh snow, for laughing out loud, for Sunday pancakes ‘en famille’ for canyoning down a waterfall behind three fearless boys. It is all those things but not necessarily any one of them. In all honesty, I think I would have appreciated the little joys anyway. But it is about examining the life you live, about not waiting for what you want, about imparting any wisdom you might have gleaned to those you love, about making the most of everything that comes your way, about living even the minute intensely.