There are not many CEOs whose deaths can evoke a grief similar to that of a rock star or a royal, but Steve Jobs was so much more than a CEO. Directly or indirectly, he changed the everyday lives of millions. If you listen to an mp3 player; if you use a smartphone; if you access a computer via a graphical user interface, Jobs has been a part of your life. It doesn't even matter if your devices come from Apple. The impact of the company's products on the landscape has created its own gravity field, warping the space/time of technology and defining the standards to which all others aspire and against which all others are judged.
And while the world mourns the passing of an inspirational visionary, a smaller group will gather in New York this weekend to mourn the passing of my stepfather Bernie -- a man equally inspirational to those who knew him. He was a multi-Emmy-award-winning journalist, an investigative reporter who sought to understand, deeply, inequalities and underdogs. He was quirky and caring and funny and outsized. He was a man who, to purloin a phrase from Jobs himself, lived before he died.
By now you've probably been reminded about Jobs' Stanford commencement speech: "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."
And yet it is so easy to forget that we are all going to die. This world excels at the illusion of permanence even in the face of relentless change. We forget that every achievement is fleeting. We forget that our beauty will fade, that our bodies will fail us, that companies and fortunes and cities and empires will rise and fall.
But if we can remember, we are freed. The Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh, speaking on anger, suggested that, if you find yourself fighting with someone, you remind yourself of death. Dear one, he said, in a hundred years we will both be gone. How can I waste even one second being angry with you?
And still we forget. We forget how brief our time is with each other. We forget that vibrant relationships and extraordinary endeavors need us to turn up, every day, with open eyes and open mind and open heart, remembering that yesterday is already dead and today is a new and different day. We forget that life needs us to be awake.
For 56 years, Steve Jobs was awake. And, while he left an extraordinary legacy of gadgetry, the iPhone and iPad pale into insignificance alongside his lessons about death. Dear ones, he seemed to say, in a hundred years we will all be gone. How can we waste even one second being anything other than our grandest selves?
Goodbye, Steve. Goodbye, Bernie. Thank you for all that you've given us and for all that you've taught us. Thank you for showing us how to live and for showing us how to die. And may you ride boldly into your next big adventure.