Novelist Mona Simpson’s eulogy for her brother Steve Jobs is online in the NY Times. His tremendous hunger to live the life he was meant to live may be the most important gift he leaves us.
We joke sometimes that we need an extra day in the week, our lives are so busy busy busy. At 2 a.m. this morning the clocks jumped back an hour, in most of the US.
So, how are you spending your one extra hour, today?
The message that you should live the one particular, individual life you were meant to live is not original or unique but there are few exemplars so sparkling as Jobs. People utterly and uncompromisingly who and what they are. I’ve known a handful up close and personal. These are the people who inspire me.
Yesterday I spent the afternoon with my publisher, Jen Bosveld, who could not put on a false face if her life depended on it. She’s apt to tell you exactly what she thinks, whether flattering or shattering. She is a tough defender of her positions but never closed-minded, a rare combination of traits that makes conversation with her exceptionally pleasurable—that, and her breadth and depth of life experience. Disaster preparedness to small press tricks-of-the-trade to the alarming debt with which for-profit university students are saddled—that was the first half hour of our discussion. Over the years Jen has vexed and occasionally enraged me with her intense focus and drive—sometimes at the expense of her own health—but she remains a role model of living the life one was meant to live. Most people who know Jen wish they had one tenth her energy and zest for life.
Many years ago I worked as a volunteer for a hospice program, one of the first of its kind in this country. The volunteer coordinator, Peg, said something profound in my training session: People die the way they have lived. There was a lot of romantic clap-trap in the seventies, about near-miraculous end-of-life personal transformations. The stuff of Hollywood B-grade movies, not real lives. Peg insisted her volunteers have, and communicate to family members, realistic expectations of the dying.
It’s surprising how often over the years her words have come back to me. Peg taught me to honor the coping skills people have right now, right here in the present moment. Not to expect them to abandon what’s working, especially in a crisis. And all of our crises, when you boil it down, are rehearsals for the final crisis of dying.
Yet to live your one best life requires stepping out of the very assumptions and defenses that keep us upright day to day. You have to winnow away whatever in your life obscures the crucial and essential, and to act on behalf of those, at times ruthlessly. You have to risk–well, everything, sometimes.
Sacrifices and leaps of faith are stock in trade. Sometimes it’s not pretty, and often the path is not clear-cut. In jettisoning the non-essential, other people, including loved ones, can get hurt. Expectations will inevitably be disappointed. Mistakes are made. If you’ve got a soupcon of wisdom to go along with your ruthless pursuit of your One True Life; if you’re not a complete narcissist, you do what you can to make amends to those people you’ve hurt. But you will not be deterred by opinions. Nothing will keep you from following your dream.
This is not to say that relationships are not a part of the One Life. Jobs was also an exemplar of integrating the personal and professional sides of life. Yes, it took a while for him to find the ones with whom he would spend his life. But once he found them, family and friends, he loved as completely as he followed his creative drive at work. He was in all areas of his life, it seems, uncompromising in his passions.
Steve Jobs’ highest value was beauty, and this is a little bit remarkable when you consider how tremendously functional and practical, how ergonomic his inventions. They work, really well. But what seduces is their beauty. It may be that this balance at the joining-point of art and technology was his genius.
I’m a little bleary from travel, a little drained from not sleeping enough lately. I didn’t use my extra hour this morning for sleep, though I thought yesterday evening that I would. I used it to cook and to bake. That nesting part of my life has fallen away lately in the midst of production runs, family needs, the daily busyness of living. My house smells fantastic today, stock simmering on the stove and baked delicacies cooling on the counter.
I haven’t posted blogs much lately either, though I have several unpublished drafts half-ready. I hardly open Facebook. I’m spending my time and my energy pennies elsewhere. I heard a great commentary about social media on NPR the other night, about how “free” social media are not really free at all. In order to use them effectively to promote a small business (like the wompus) one must invest tremendous energy and time over a protracted period. For me right now that doesn’t trump actually working on books, though I will get back to it one of these days. It’s part of getting the books out into the world, and that is also an element of my One Life.
In Mona Simpson’s eulogy to her brother, you can read Steve Jobs’ last words. They got me thinking along a familiar line, about how we determine what constitutes a “good life”, a life well lived. For some people this flows from religious belief, and more specifically, belief in an afterlife or its lack. For me the question of life after death necessarily remains an open one—I was trained as a scientist, and I recognize certain problems for which we have no capacity to gather or test evidence beyond the subjective and malleable. I remain an afterlife agnostic.
But in the end that doesn’t affect my life choices. For me, living my One Life, the one I am meant to live, is what counts no matter the backdrop. If I disappear from existence completely and permanently on the day I die, it is important to me that I have used my brief life on the planet as fruitfully, as richly as I’m humanly, specifically, individually capable of doing.
And if we luck out, and there’s some other existence on the other side of death’s door, so much the better. Lifting up art, and loving each other, these are my drivers. My version of right life and right livelihood flow from these, regardless of the meaning of death because either way, death is the end of this One Life.
What makes your heart sing? From what chosen path would you look back on your deathbed and say, I lived the One Life I was meant to live?
And how will you use your one extra hour, today?
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