The Life with Death of Steve Jobs


I was going to post on another topic today. Everyone is writing and talking about Steve Jobs, as they should be, but there was no call for me to add more of the same. I’ve read a lot of what has been written, though, and it occurred to me what part of the impact of the loss is. Much of it is testament to the impact of Jobs’s creations, but that isn’t what I mean. People feel deeply the loss of the person, and I’m thinking about why.

When great people die in old age, the public acknowledgments are significantly historical. The individuals have generally long faded from the scene and are no longer vitally a part of the current culture. Even if their contributions continue profoundly to influence the world, it is often in anonymity. Younger generations, unborn when the great were making their dramatic mark, move through the world as if the printing press, the electric light, the automobile are geographic features of their universe. Someone brought forth this light? There was a life and times that shone it?

The death of the old is a final curtain long after the player has left the stage and others have purchased our attention.

But it isn’t even, I think, Jobs’s dying young. If he had died in an accident, the reaction would be similar, but there would be great attention to the “tragedy” of the accident, a life and its creativity arbitrarily cut short by the usual meaningless confluence of events. The arbitrariness of it, the “at any moment” considerations, would loom large in our thoughts. That isn’t the case with Jobs.

Of course, dying young from a disease, from cancer, produces a similar sense of a life “cut short.” Yet there is a way in which the nature of the event, the death, is markedly different.

Steve Jobs died a natural death.

We react some – a lot – as if the death were not natural, because it occurred so young, and to die young seems, certainly, unnatural. But – if we are fortunate enough, as most of us are, not to die by accident or war, or criminally – disease of one kind or another, a failure of the biological instrument, is how we go, just as did Jobs.

Still, what strikes us in the death of Jobs, what wounds, is that his natural death, which we have come to think of as a late, final ping to the life once lived in full bluster, occurred in the midst, instead, of his fertility: life, in its stirring fruitfulness, and death – in, not outside of, nature – not in opposition to each other, but in tandem.

This is one of the striking features, too, of the 2005 Stanford commencement address Jobs gave and that is getting so much attention. The last of the three stories Jobs tells in it is about the death he had already faced from cancer and which he thought, then, he had overcome. Yet though the consequence was that he no longer believed he would soon die, death had entered his life through a door that would never open again for exit. Death was now part of his understanding and consciousness of life, not merely the end of life, and Jobs shared that understanding with the graduating students. It was an unusual choice of emphasis in speaking to young adults being ceremoniously launched into the world, and who are likely to imagine death, when they think of it at all, as that distant fade from a life exhausted. Jobs asked them then to think of death sooner, differently, as something vitally connected to, not separate from life.

His death asks the same of us now.


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1 thought on “The Life with Death of Steve Jobs

  1. I can’t tell you how glad I am to have found your post this evening. I agree with you 100%. You have helped me to greater clarity on this. I read another blog author earlier today who took away from Jobs’ words that we shouldn’t focus on the “negative” but just keep our eyes on the positive dimensions of the unknown. I felt that writer had really missed the point of what I, at least, understood Jobs was about.

    I have often said that it is when we understand that death is a part of life and not its antithesis that we have a chance to achieve a greater clarity about the meaning of both: life and death. I so appreciate how you have given voice to similar thoughts here. Thank you.

    Linda Watson

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