Thursday, October 6, 2011

Life goes on after people die, even Steve Jobs ... or my mom

Apple's webpage the night Steve Jobs died.

Today is a sad anniversary for me. Two years ago tonight, my mother lost her short battle with cancer.

Yesterday, another personal icon, Steve Jobs, lost his much longer fight against another form of the same scourge.

Death is a funny thing. For one person, it’s obviously the end, at least on this plane of existence. For those close to the deceased, depending how close, their lives can sometimes also be measured as “before” and “after.”

But last night, as I walked into my downtown San Francisco classroom after reading about Jobs’ death, I realized that for others, life goes on. My classmates were concerned about finishing their papers, discussing the ethics of California’s High-Speed Rail project (our assignment for the week), and curious about their colleagues' job prospects. Traffic along Market Street was as busy and frantic as ever. I couldn’t see the Apple Store a block away, but I’ll bet it was bustling, albeit with a sense of sadness.

But all in all, it looked rather normal, and I wondered, “is that fair?”

My mom and my son bond about three
months before her death.
It reminded me a bit of two years ago, after my mom died. I remember going out into the streets of Klamath Falls and seeing people moving along, doing their business. They read, laughed, ate, walked as if everything was the same as it ever was. I wanted to go up to people who seemed chipper and ask something along the lines of, “What the hell’s the matter with you? Don’t you know my mom died?”

But no, these people didn’t know my mother, nor did I know theirs. If their mothers were dead, even if I’d known it, I might feel sad for them, but I’d recognize the need to carry on – and I would, just like they did.

Those of us who’ve worked in the news business are familiar with the phrase, “One death is a tragedy, thousands of deaths is a statistic.” Yet, we’ve all seen how a single death can seemingly go unnoticed.

But do they really go unnoticed just because people haven’t changed their routines?

One of the best tributes to Steve Jobs is that so many people read about his death on devices he had a hand in creating, then went back to their business on another one of his devices. Jobs’ legacy lives on, just like I think that one of the best legacies of my mom is the love and understanding I give my own children.

We all incrementally contribute to the human race. One man might invent a better way to listen to music. Another woman might instill a sense of dedication to one’s family in her offspring. In the end, though, any single individual’s contribution – even an individual as famous as Steve Jobs – might seem negligible (heck, there are roughly seven billion of us).

But multiply the contributions, however small, of that individual by a few billion times and you can see that every life has a meaning and is important in its own way. My little contribution to society is important to its continuing development, and so is yours (whoever you may be). When a person dies, we may have lost their contribution, but they also did their part to build this society (no matter how screwed up it is).

In fact, it would be an insult to not carry on after they’re gone.


Rob Roy said...

Great article, John. To me, when a person close to me, dies, and even certain famous people, time loses that unstoppable momentum we all usually experience. I guess it's our way of taking time to reflect.

Claire said...

I'm really touched by this piece. Thanks for writing such a thoughtful blog. Plus I love that picture of your mom and Ian.

MeganS said...

what a beautiful post. i stumbled upon it by accident and I'm so glad that I did. my mom died last week and as we walked out of the hospital, even through the hospital, I saw people going on about their business as if my life hadn't just been turned completely upside down and had the same urge to walk up to them. But this piece is so beautiful because i quickly realized that, actually, while this event may change my life or change me, it does not have to reduce the value of my life or of myself. I love, love, love the part of this post about people reading about Steve's death on one of his products and then going about their business. what better way to honor those who've passed than to continue their legacy?

John C. Baker said...

Megan, thanks so much for your comment. It's a jarring transition, but you learn to adjust. My condolences on your mother's passing.