Those were the words that Steve Jobs, CEO and creative backbone of Apple, passed on to the graduating class at Stanford University a few years ago.
After hearing of his death last night, I watched that commencement address and those particular words stuck. I went to bed thinking about them, and they were the first words on my mind when I awoke this morning. I’ll take that as a sign that I should write about them.
Steve Jobs was delivering his own “Last Lecture,” just like Randy Pausch. For the most part, the students were listening, but not really listening. It was another beautiful day under the Palo Alto sun, and many had shed their graduation robes in the hopes of getting a jump start on their summer tans. They were laughing at some junctures when they should have been soberly reflecting, clapping when their hands ought to have been clasped in contemplation, even prayer.
Most of them had gobbled their Gerber with silver spoons, and they didn’t know exactly how to take Mr. Jobs’ comments on inauspicious starts, falling from grace, and most especially, death. They were too busy commencing to give too much thought to halting.
I thought about them last night when the news came, and I wondered how many of them watched his address again and what they thought now.
“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way of avoiding the trap of thinking that you have something to lose,” Jobs said.
I’ve had no choice but to remember it. Death has followed me everywhere, all the days of my life.
Some of my earliest memories are of standing before open caskets in funeral homes. I watched my 47-year-old father waste away and die when I was eighteen. I grieved when one of my best friends, one whom I had visited in jail on numerous occasions, was murdered a couple of years later. I tried my best to say the right things when my 10-year-old nephew died and to console his young cousins, my sons. I held and stroked my mother’s head as she took her last breath.
Death has kept me honest. Death has kept me humble. Death has fed my hunger to live more, love more, to write more. Death is the best teacher I’ve ever had.
Recently, I flew across the country to meet and interview some people who, many years ago in a time of great moral crisis, took bold and significant action. Many called them “foolish kids” at the time.
Those “kids” are old now, but their eyes still twinkle with mischief and mirth. They have lived their lives to the hilt, and while slowed a bit, still do.
I know they think about death too, but it doesn’t seem to faze them. They plow straight ahead, their ravenous and lively minds constantly on the prowl for more.
I want to follow their lead and live like them. I want to shake things up, take chances and dream “foolish” dreams. I want to be able to say “Should I die today, it’s all good.”
“Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish.” Words to live–and die–by.
Thank you, Bill, Susie, Keith, Barbara, Bob and Billie. And thank you, Steve.