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Death’s other side

“ 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.”

When he said those words at the 2005 Stanford commencement ceremony, Steve Jobs thought he had been cured. “I’m fine now,” he said. Describing his diagnosis and surgery the year before, and his great good fortune that his was the rare form of pancreatic cancer that didn’t leave you with only months to live, he said he hoped “it’s the closest I get for a few more decades.”

He was wrong about that. But he was right about the rest.

On the radio on the way home just after his death, all the commentators were talking about Steve Jobs’ legacy — from icons to iPads, from Macs to iPhones. It is a long list. Genius, they said over and over. Visionary. All true.

I don’t have an iPhone. I don’t use a Mac. Until recently, I stuck with my Kindle. Even now, my iPad sits mostly by my bed.

For me, at least, it’s not about the products.

Life isn’t fair. Fifty-six is too young. Leaving a wife and four young children to grow up on their own is all wrong. When my father died at 53, I felt horribly cheated. I would look around at men decades older than him, men who lacked my father’s character and compassion, men who were smug and selfish and all the things he wasn’t, and I would feel angry — yes, angry — that they were walking down the street and my father was buried in a cemetery plot. What kind of God does that? I spent years feeling cheated. It did not bring my father back.

Knowing that we all face death and that it is unpredictable, unknowable and, yes, so often unfair can rob life of meaning — or make each day more meaningful. In the end, like so many things, what we can control is not the ending, but how we get there; not how we die, but how we live.

Steve Jobs’ legacy, for me at least, is all about courage and perseverance, about dignity and determination, about the joyous pursuit of passion. It is about facing death and choosing life.

Some mornings I wake up overcome by anxiety and fear. And then I get out of bed. I am fine with pain. It is fear that can paralyze me — if I let it. No one’s glass is really full: whether it is half-full or halfempty depends on how you see it.

“Death,” Jobs told Stanford’s graduates, “is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.”

May he rest in peace. ©2011 Creators

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