Steve Job's commencement address at Stanford last June has certainly made the rounds by now. That doesn't make it less timely or less valuable. Unlike the pompous proclamations of many speakers, Mr. Job's words seem real, heartfelt and wise.
He told three personal stories, all of them cautionary tales. The last one seems most relevant at this time of year:
"About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months..."
"I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy... I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery...."
"No one wants to die...And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent."
We all need to get our spiritual lives in order. We all want to "repent the day before we die." We don't want to leave behind resentments, regrets, fractured relationships. Many of us understand this intellectually.
But understanding and practice can be miles apart. We'd like to live with this recognition before we're forced to do so. We'd like to grow and change on a daily, even hourly basis. We'd like to repair our relationships and reap the rewards in this world, not wait until the last minute. We'd like to wake up today. But frequently we don't unless we're forced to.
Steve Jobs, by his own account, was forced to. Thank God, his story has a happy outcome -- in all respects.
"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 expectation, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure -- these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important...".
Like those listening Stanford graduates, we all have the world before us, and we can all make choices about how to live it.
Steve Jobs received a relatively mild wake-up call. He chose to learn and grow from it. And he chose to share his wisdom with us so that hopefully we won't need our own private message.