Steve Jobs’ Final Words

There is a lot of misinformation on the web concerning Steve Jobs’ final words.  As usual, the truth is better than fiction.  Here it is courtesy of his sister.

A Sister’s Eulogy for Steve Jobs, by Mona Simpson, October 30, 2011

I grew up as an only child, with a single mother.  Because we were poor and because I knew my father had emigrated from Syria, I imagined he looked like Omar Sharif.  I hoped he would be rich and kind and would come into our lives (and our not yet furnished apartment) and help us. Later, after I’d met my father, I tried to believe he’d changed his number and left no forwarding address because he was an idealistic revolutionary, plotting a new world for the Arab people.

Even as a feminist, my whole life I’d been waiting for a man to love, who could love me. For decades, I’d thought that man would be my father. When I was 25, I met that man and he was my brother.

By then, I lived in New York, where I was trying to write my first novel.  I had a job at a small magazine in an office the size of a closet, with three other aspiring writers. When one day a lawyer called me — me, the middle-class girl from California who hassled the boss to buy us health insurance — and said his client was rich and famous and was my long-lost brother, the young editors went wild.   The lawyer refused to tell me my brother’s name and my colleagues started a betting pool.  The leading candidate: John Travolta. I secretly hoped for a literary descendant of Henry James — someone more talented than I, someone brilliant without even trying.

When I met Steve, he was a guy my age in jeans, Arab – or Jewish-looking – and handsomer than Omar Sharif.  We took a long walk — something, it happened, that we both liked to do. I don’t remember much of what we said that first day, only that he felt like someone I’d pick to be a friend. He explained that he worked in computers.

I didn’t know much about computers.  I still worked on a manual Olivetti typewriter.  I told Steve I’d recently considered my first purchase of a computer: something called the Cromemco.  Steve told me it was a good thing I’d waited.  He said he was making something that was going to be insanely beautiful.

I want to tell you a few things I learned from Steve, during three distinct periods, over the 27 years I knew him. They’re not periods of years, but of states of being.  His full life.  His illness.  His dying.

Steve worked at what he loved.  He worked really hard.  Every day.

That’s incredibly simple, but true.

He was never embarrassed about working hard, even if the results were failures. If someone as smart as Steve wasn’t ashamed to admit trying, maybe I didn’t have to be.

When he got kicked out of Apple, things were painful. He told me about a dinner at which 500 Silicon Valley leaders met the then-sitting president.  Steve hadn’t been invited.

Uninvited to the ball, he drove the third or fourth iteration of his same black sports car to Next, where he and his team were quietly inventing the platform on which Tim Berners-Lee would write the program for the World Wide Web.

Novelty was not Steve’s highest value.  Beauty was.

For an innovator, Steve was remarkably loyal. If he loved a shirt, he’d order 10 or 100 of them. In the Palo Alto house, there are probably enough black cotton turtlenecks for everyone in this church.

His philosophy of aesthetics reminds me of a quote that went something like this: “Fashion is what seems beautiful now but looks ugly later; art can be ugly at first but it becomes beautiful later.”

Steve always aspired to make beautiful later.

Steve was like a girl in the amount of time he spent talking about love. Love was his supreme virtue, his god of gods. He tracked and worried about the romantic lives of the people working with him.

Whenever he saw a man he thought a woman might find dashing, he called out, “Hey are you single? Do you wanna come to dinner with my sister?”

I remember when he phoned the day he met Laurene. “There’s this beautiful woman and she’s really smart and she has this dog and I’m going to marry her.”

When Reed was born, he began gushing and never stopped.  He was a physical dad, with each of his children.  He fretted over Lisa’s boyfriends and Erin’s travel and skirt lengths and Eve’s safety around the horses she adored.

None of us who attended Reed’s graduation party will ever forget the scene of Reed and Steve slow dancing.

His abiding love for Laurene sustained him. He believed that love happened all the time, everywhere.  In that most important way, Steve was never ironic, never cynical, never pessimistic.  I try to learn from that, still.

Steve had been successful at a young age, and he felt that had isolated him. Most of the choices he made from the time I knew him were designed to dissolve the walls around him.  A middle-class boy from Los Altos, he fell in love with a middle-class girl from New Jersey.  It was important to both of them to raise Lisa, Reed, Erin and Eve as grounded, normal children.  Their house didn’t intimidate with art or polish; in fact, for many of the first years I knew Steve and Lo together, dinner was served on the grass, and sometimes consisted of just one vegetable.  Lots of that one vegetable.  But one.  Broccoli.  In season. Simply prepared.  With just the right, recently snipped, herb.

Even as a young millionaire, Steve always picked me up at the airport.  He’d be standing there in his jeans.

When a family member called him at work, his secretary Linetta answered, “Your dad’s in a meeting.  Would you like me to interrupt him?”

When Reed insisted on dressing up as a witch every Halloween, Steve, Laurene, Erin and Eve all went wiccan.

They once embarked on a kitchen remodel; it took years. They cooked on a hotplate in the garage.  The Pixar building, under construction during the same period, finished in half the time.  And that was it for the Palo Alto house. The bathrooms stayed old.  But — and this was a crucial distinction — it had been a great house to start with; Steve saw to that.

This is not to say that he didn’t enjoy his success: he enjoyed his success a lot, just minus a few zeros. He told me how much he loved going to the Palo Alto bike store and gleefully realizing he could afford to buy the best bike there.

And he did.

Steve was humble.   Steve liked to keep learning.

Once, he told me if he’d grown up differently, he might have become a mathematician.  He spoke reverently about colleges and loved walking around the Stanford campus. In the last year of his life, he studied a book of paintings by Mark Rothko, an artist he hadn’t known about before, thinking of what could inspire people on the walls of a future Apple campus.

Steve cultivated whimsy.  What other C.E.O. knows the history of English and Chinese tea roses and has a favorite David Austin rose.

He had surprises tucked in all his pockets.  I’ll venture that Laurene will discover treats — songs he loved, a poem he cut out and put in a drawer — even after 20 years of an exceptionally close marriage.  I spoke to him every other day or so, but when I opened The New York Times and saw a feature on the company’s patents, I was still surprised and delighted to see a sketch for a perfect staircase.

With his four children, with his wife, with all of us, Steve had a lot of fun.

He treasured happiness.

Then, Steve became ill and we watched his life compress into a smaller circle.  Once, he’d loved walking through Paris.  He’d discovered a small handmade soba shop in Kyoto.  He downhill skied gracefully.  He cross-country skied clumsily.  No more.

Eventually, even ordinary pleasures, like a good peach, no longer appealed to him.

Yet, what amazed me, and what I learned from his illness, was how much was still left after so much had been taken away.

I remember my brother learning to walk again, with a chair. After his liver transplant, once a day he would get up on legs that seemed too thin to bear him, arms pitched to the chair back. He’d push that chair down the Memphis hospital corridor towards the nursing station and then he’d sit down on the chair, rest, turn around and walk back again. He counted his steps and, each day, pressed a little farther.

Laurene got down on her knees and looked into his eyes.

“You can do this, Steve,” she said.  His eyes widened.  His lips pressed into each other.

He tried.  He always, always tried, and always with love at the core of that effort.  He was an intensely emotional man.

I realized during that terrifying time that Steve was not enduring the pain for himself.  He set destinations:  his son Reed’s graduation from high school, his daughter Erin’s trip to Kyoto, the launching of a boat he was building on which he planned to take his family around the world and where he hoped he and Laurene would someday retire.

Even ill, his taste, his discrimination and his judgment held.  He went through 67 nurses before finding kindred spirits and then he completely trusted the three who stayed with him to the end. Tracy. Arturo. Elham.

One time when Steve had contracted a tenacious pneumonia his doctor forbid everything — even ice.  We were in a standard I.C.U. unit.  Steve, who generally disliked cutting in line or dropping his own name, confessed that this once, he’d like to be treated a little specially.

I told him:  Steve, this is special treatment.

He leaned over to me, and said: “I want it to be a little more special.”

Intubated, when he couldn’t talk, he asked for a notepad.  He sketched devices to hold an iPad in a hospital bed.  He designed new fluid monitors and x-ray equipment.  He redrew that not-quite-special-enough hospital unit.  And every time his wife walked into the room, I watched his smile remake itself on his face.

None of us knows for certain how long we’ll be here. On Steve’s better days, even in the last year, he embarked upon projects and elicited promises from his friends at Apple to finish them.  Some boat builders in the Netherlands have a gorgeous stainless steel hull ready to be covered with the finishing wood.  His three daughters remain unmarried and he’d wanted to walk them down the aisle as he’d walked me the day of my wedding.

We all — in the end — die in medias res.  In the middle of a story.  Of many stories.

I suppose it’s not quite accurate to call the death of someone who lived with cancer for years unexpected, but Steve’s death was unexpected for us.

What I learned from my brother’s death was that character is essential:  What he was, was how he died.

Tuesday morning, he called me to ask me to hurry up to Palo Alto.  His tone was affectionate, dear, loving, but like someone whose luggage was already strapped onto the vehicle, who was already on the beginning of his journey, even as he was sorry, truly deeply sorry, to be leaving us.

He started his farewell and I stopped him.  I said, “Wait.  I’m coming. I’m in a taxi to the airport.  I’ll be there.”

“I’m telling you now because I’m afraid you won’t make it on time, honey.”

When I arrived, he and his Laurene were joking together like partners who’d lived and worked together every day of their lives.  He looked into his children’s eyes as if he couldn’t unlock his gaze.

Until about 2 in the afternoon, his wife could rouse him, to talk to his friends from Apple.

Then, after awhile, it was clear that he would no longer wake to us.

His breathing changed.  It became severe, deliberate, purposeful.  I could feel him counting his steps again, pushing farther than before.

This is what I learned:  he was working at this, too.  Death didn’t happen to Steve, he achieved it.

He told me, when he was saying goodbye and telling me he was sorry, so sorry we wouldn’t be able to be old together as we’d always planned, that he was going to a better place.

Dr. Fischer gave him a 50/50 chance of making it through the night.

He made it through the night, Laurene next to him on the bed sometimes jerked up when there was a longer pause between his breaths.  She and I looked at each other, then he would heave a deep breath and begin again.

This had to be done. Even now, he had a stern, still handsome profile, the profile of an absolutist, a romantic.  His breath indicated an arduous journey, some steep path, altitude.

He seemed to be climbing.

But with that will, that work ethic, that strength, there was also sweet Steve’s capacity for wonderment, the artist’s belief in the ideal, the still more beautiful later.

Steve’s final words, hours earlier, were monosyllables, repeated three times.

Before embarking, he’d looked at his sister Patty, then for a long time at his children, then at his life’s partner, Laurene, and then over their shoulders past them.

Steve’s final words were:  OH WOW.  OH WOW.  OH WOW.

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Father’s Day

I distinctly remember the moment I looked down and saw my father’s hand coming out of my sleeve.  Until then, I had always thought I was my Mother’s son.   Since then, I have found myself thinking I am becoming more and more like my Dad every day.

Is it the age, I wonder – me catching up on the staggered track of life – or does it have more to do with the fact that I am now a Father myself?  More and more I find myself saying the things he used to say, doing the things he used to do, and marveling at how much smarter he seems now than he was then.

My father was a strong man, dynamic, and dramatic.  A man of firm conviction, he expressed his opinions frequently and forcefully.  For him, everything was monochromatic, black or white, right or wrong.  There were no shades of grey or extenuating circumstances.

He walked into harm’s way daily for 20 years to put food on our table and seemed fearless until the day I came home with 7 stitches in my lip and blood covering my shirt.  Before I could tell him what happened, he erupted like a volcano.

I remember the moment clearly because it was one of those ‘aha’ moments.  My first reaction was – “Why is he yelling at me?”   Then I realized he wasn’t yelling at me.  He was yelling for me.  He was yelling because he was afraid – not for himself, but for his son.

More than anything my Dad wanted me to get an education.  At first I thought it was because this was something he had been denied.  Now I know it had more to do with a Father’s desire to see a son reach his highest possibilities.  My son taught me that lesson.

Daily for 18 years and change, I have watched my son grow.  There is no way to describe the delight I take in seeing him discovers who he is meant to be and what he is capable of doing.

All will win, my father would say.  All will lose.  Win or lose take you best shot, let the chips fall where they may.  Get up and go on.  Never give up.

Win, lose, or draw, always try to do better, always try to make things better.  Remember it is when we are tested that our true character is revealed.

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If You Have Done Something Good, Write It on an Ice Cube

My father’s health deteriorated progressively through the years. The degeneration of his lungs put an increasing strain on his heart. Heart problems were followed by kidney problems, kidney problems by diabetes. It was as though his bodily systems were failing, one by one.

Then in the spring of l988, Dad developed cataracts and had to go in for surgery on both eyes. The operation on the first eye went well, but the second did not. As he waited for things to heal enough to allow corrective surgery, he grew increasingly frustrated an angry. He felt his body had been betraying him for years. This was the final insult.

During that time, it seemed there was little he could do other than aggravate my mom. Unable to work and uninterested in TV, Dad spent much of his time looking through the mail order catalogs that poured into the house. Dad called them his “wish books.” He examined each one that arrived in detail, thumbing through them for hours.

Watching this activity, day after day, and trying to guess why he seemed so preoccupied with something so trivial, frustrated my mother even more. Her frustration was compounded whenever she asked him what he was doing.

“I am just looking,” Dad always responded defensively. “Can’t I look?”

It seemed like a small thing in the midst of some many other things; but it grew to be the source of the greatest friction I ever saw between my parents. Finally, it got so bad my brother and I felt we had to give Mom a break. We agreed he would take her on a mini-vacation, while I stayed with Dad and took care of him.

Almost as soon as we returned from taking them to the airport, Dad pulled out one his wish books. “I have looking for a ring like this,” he said, “and I need your help.”

Dad explained that when they were married he could not afford to buy my Mother an engagement ring, but he had promised her that someday he would. Their 45th anniversary was approaching. In anticipation of that event, he had been searching for the perfect ring and a way to make good on his promise.

The ring had to have thirteen stones, Dad said, because they were married on July 13. For the same reason, he wanted the center stone to be a ruby, the birthstone for July, flanked by a smaller ruby and by five diamonds on each side.

After months of looking, he said he thought he had finally found what he wanted in one of the catalogues. He asked me to drive him to the store so that he could see it.

We did as Dad wanted, but the ring he had seen advertised was disappointing. The stones were small and of poor quality. There were some other nice rings in the store, but they did match the image he had in his mind and were priced well beyond his means.

Much of the week Mom was gone, my Father shopped for the ring he wanted without success. He was reluctant to give up but the time for her return was rapidly approaching. To put his mind at ease, I assured him that I knew what he wanted and would keep looking for his ring until I found it. Dad seemed satisfied with that but, a man of great pride; he made me promise I would give him the bill.

The day after my Mother’s return I went to a jeweler in downtown Washington. I told him I wanted him to make a ring for me and gave him specifications. We picked out the stones and agreed on the price. Then I told him why I wanted the ring and asked for a favor. I said I would pay his price, but I wanted two invoices – one for the full amount, the other for my father made out in the amount he hoped to pay.

The jeweler was happy to comply and Dad was delighted with ring. He was even more pleased when he saw Mom’s reaction to her anniversary ring and her appreciation for the thought and great love that had gone into its purchase.

My father passed away five months later. My mother followed him in eighteen months. Neither one of them ever knew what I had done. But nothing, they could have said or done would have meant as much to me as the look in Mom’s eyes as she gazed at that ring in the months after my Father’s death.

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Loving and Liking


Arthur Flemming had the distinction of serving every President from Coolidge to Clinton. He was, among other things, a member of the Hoover Commission, Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare under Eisenhower, and head of the Department of Aging under Nixon and Carter.

Before entering public service, Arthur briefly considered going to divinity school. He remained devoutly religious all of his life. For 65 of his 92 years, he attended Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, DC, taught Sunday school during the first service and sat in the same place, at the end of the fourth pew from the back, for the second service, every Sunday he was in town.

During the week, Arthur had a standing reservation for lunch at Twigs, a restaurant near his office. Arthur held court there, entertaining a revolving cast of regulars and a seemingly endless supply of new friends.

At least once a month while he lived, I found myself worked into the rotation. I would receive a call from Arthur’s secretary inviting me to join him for lunch, sometimes that same day, sometimes a couple of weeks in advance. I rarely knew Arthur’s agenda, but I never turned down an invitation.

We talked about health care reform. We talked about aging. We talked politics. We talked religion. We talked about life.

On one of these occasions, Arthur began a discourse on applied Christianity. He said the most difficult theological question for him to understand and apply was the notion of loving your neighbor.

With a wry smile, he said, “As you have undoubtedly noticed there are a lot of disagreeable people in the world.  Some of our neighbors are very difficult to like.”

Arthur found the solution to his dilemma in a sermon he heard in England during World War II – a time when the consequences of loving, as well as not loving, our neighbors were abundantly evident.

The answer, Arthur said, lies in the difference between “loving” and “liking” and the reason we do one or the other or both.

“It’s helpful to remember there is no commandment to like our neighbors,” Arthur said.

In choosing to love the neighbors we do not like, we separate who we are from what we do. We can love the essence of an individual without liking the choices they have made or the way they live their lives.  We can see God in each other without expecting everyone we meet to behave as we behave and look like what we see in the mirror.

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The Story Within the Story

The story of Bob Macauley and Operation Babylift is the stuff of legends but there is a part of the story that’s rarely told.

It begins on April 4, 1975, near the end of the Vietnamese war.  A C5A Galaxy cargo plane takes off from Saigon with 243 orphans on board. Forty miles out of Saigon, an explosion blows off the rear door. The flight controls are crippled. Decompression fills the plane with fog and debris.

Somehow, the pilots manage to turn the plane around and head back to Saigon. The damaged plane crashes two miles from Tan Son Nhut airport. It skids a thousand feet, bounces up in the air, hits a dike half a mile away, and shatters into a hundred pieces.

Half of the children on board are killed immediately. Many of the survivors are critically injured. They are desperately in need of medical attention.

Half a world away in Virginia, a private citizen, Bob Macauley, hears about the tragedy. He is shaken by the loss of so many young lives and shocked to learn the military will not be able to rescue the survivors for ten days.

Bob cannot stand by and wait that long.  “Many would have died,” he says.

For Macaluey, that thought is unbearable. He considers his options and decides to roll the dice.  His solution is risky and might blow up in his face, but he knows it is the only way he can help.

Bob begins by contacting the airlines looking for a plane he can charter.  Never mind it’s never been done before. Never mind he would be sending a commercial plane into a war zone. Never mind his business is running in the red, struggling to stay afloat, and desperately needs all his attention.  Some things are more important than others. He hears the children cry in his heart.  He has to do something.

Finally, Pan Am agrees to take a plane in the Philippines out of service and send it to Saigon.  They want a quarter of a million dollars, ten percent down.  Bob is quick to agree and sends them a bum check for the deposit.  Two days later when the plane has landed, Pan Am comes looking for their money.  By then, Bob has mortgaged his house to cover the debt.

Bob’s wife, Leila, remembers hearing about it when the TV crews show up at her front door asking if they can take pictures.

“What’s this about the house?” she asks Bob when he gets home.

Overshadowed by this act of human solidarity and embed in it is the story of the Carnie twins – dubbed “Hansel and Gretel” by a German nurse who cared for them the orphanage.

On the date of the fatal flight, infants filled the center of the plane. They had been loaded on the C5A in two-foot-square cardboard boxes. Each box contained a precious cargo of two or three infants. Toddlers, like the Carnie twins, were strapped to hard aluminum benches on each side of the aircraft.

In the rush of departure, the twins had been loaded onto different parts of the plane. After the plane went down, neither could be found. The initial report was that both had perished.

But somehow they had not only survived, they had found each other. Rescuers stumbled on them clinging together in a rice paddy more than a hundred yards from the crash site.

On a level we cannot define, Hansel and Gretel knew they needed each other.  On the same level, for the same reason, Bob Macauley felt he had to rescue a hundred children he had never met and would never know.

What Bob and these children intuitively knew and we must come to learn – particularly at contentious times like these – is that we need each other.  Humanity is indivisible.  All of our lives are intertwined and wrapped around each other.  The contribution others have made to our lives is reflected in all we think and do.  So tightly knitted are our lives that there would be little left of any of us if we were to discard what we owe to others.

It is for this reason that the world rarely makes sense from a personal point of view.  There is no adequate explanation in personal terms for the differences between us.  Why do some have so much and others so little?  Why must some struggle when others have lives of such ease?  Why are some so blessed and others so challenged?

The world only makes sense with detachment and distance. From a distance, we can see how the pieces fit.  With detachment, we see that what happens to one more often than not is for the benefit of another.

In the words of Luciano de Crescenzo, “We are each of us angels with only one wing; and can only fly while embracing each other.”

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