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Steve Jobs and What You Didn’t Know

I got to the end of Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography during Thanksgiving as I was baking a cake for a friend’s birthday.  Josh and I were sitting at the kitchen table — he was reading Murakami’s 1Q84 and I was finishing Steve Jobs — and the cake was baking in the oven.  Warm chocolate, with an undertone of coffee.

I obviously knew how the book would end, but I found myself crying as I got to April 2011, essentially reading the looking glass: what was happening on the other side as we exchanged emails.  I knew he was sick — the whole world knew he was sick — but I have to admit that I hadn’t given a lot of thought to what was happening in his world.  At least, not specifics.  I had been touched that he had taken the time to write my son; knew that he was a busy man and a sick man at that, and the fact that he would take the time to change a little boy’s life spoke volumes — to me — about his character.

And now I was reading about spring of 2011, and my heart broke for his family.  Any death is impossible to wrap your brain around.

I thought about how often someone has written me, having no clue what is happening in our house mostly because I haven’t said what is happening in our house.  I think about the times that I’ve composed a not-very-nice, leave-me-the-fuck-alone email in my head before sending off a terse, “so sorry — I’ll get to this soon” because no one really knows as we bump into each other — interact with one another — what is happening in the other person’s world; day-by-day or minute-by-minute.  We reach out to each other at these inopportune times without knowing.  And the worst is that we think we know.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to Josh, “there is no reason why it should be taking this long for X to write back.”  And the reality is that I have no idea what else is happening, what I don’t know at all, that affects the other person.  And I do this knowing full well how many times I have left things unsaid here and had to deal with the types of emails that come in when someone assumes that nothing is up.

Reading the book drove this point home: that we have no idea as we read someone’s blog, as we exchange emails, as we see each other on the street, as we spend time in each other’s houses, the subplot, the hidden story, the words unsaid, the thoughts locked inside the mind that affect the emotions, affect our ability to process an interaction.

And that is humbling.

This is the end of the book, but in between, there are dozens of places I marked, dozens of stories that I’ve been discussing with the Wolvog.  And I hope that you’ll indulge me as I process the book and the talks I’ve been having with the Wolvog about the lessons learned from studying someone else’s life.  Because there is something amazing about a person laying themselves bare, even if the book comes too late.  What I really wish I could do right now is write Steve an email — and maybe I will send it off into the ether — and let him know that now seeing the conversation in context, it means even more.  And just thank him for playing the role for my son that Bill Hewlett played for him.  The best lesson I can teach him from the book is to be open with your time, with your ability to reach out, and to do so, even when it is not convenient or easy or even something you want to be doing at all.  Because we’re all just humans, and our greatest gift is to crash into each other, to change each other’s lives, and to be grateful for every interaction because every moment of the day changes who we are.

Photo Credit: Acaben.


1 Kathy { 11.30.11 at 8:26 am }

Good morning! Beautiful post Mel. How interesting that you got an inside look at what was happening at the time you were in contact with him. You are so right about how we don’t really know what is going on behind the scenes with people and that is humbling.

I know I send you a lot of random emails and I appreciate every response you send me, no matter how long it takes you to get to it. Thank you for taking the time to do so.

I really love the ending of your post. This really moved me:

“The best lesson I can teach him from the book is to be open with your time, with your ability to reach out, and to do so, even when it is not convenient or easy or even something you want to be doing at all. Because we’re all just humans, and our greatest gift is to crash into each other, to change each other’s lives, and to be grateful for every interaction because every moment of the day changes who we are.”

So true.

2 MeAndBaby { 11.30.11 at 8:33 am }

Great post Mel. I’m marking this one in my reader with a star so I can go back often.

3 a { 11.30.11 at 8:52 am }

There is so much that can be learned from others – and the funny thing is, it doesn’t even take much effort. All you have to do is listen and observe sometimes.

4 HereWeGoAJen { 11.30.11 at 9:14 am }

You know, that’s something I think often in crowds. That every single person has a whole huge life going on and all I see is a glimpse of them as we walk past each other. Even people that I know well, I only see a small part of what is really going on.

5 Peg { 11.30.11 at 10:20 am }

Beautiful last sentence.

6 Eggs In A Row { 11.30.11 at 11:20 am }

Gorgeous post.

7 NotTheMama { 11.30.11 at 1:08 pm }

Awesome… And something to keep in mind when Aunt NotTheMama is feeling stretched rather thin by all of the little ones in my life – nieces, nephews, younger cousins, church kids, their parents! Such a blessing to be constantly “bothered” by so many who love their Aunt N.

8 Pale { 11.30.11 at 3:25 pm }

I just loved this. This idea has been so on my mind lately … as we’ve been feeling a little manhandled by others at a time when we are really struggling with some socially invisible issues. I keep thinking, if you ~knew~ what you were doing to us (by behaving spitefully, playing games, etc being self-centered, frivolous), you would be (or should be) so ashamed of yourselves. But then I have to remind myself, hard as it is to feel compassion for people who torture us, they are fighting, too … in that “”Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” — Plato kind of way.

We can be so damn hard on eachother. The scary thing is, we can be hard on each other while intending the exact opposite. The older I get, the more I know how important it is to tread lightly in the world.

9 loribeth { 11.30.11 at 4:07 pm }

This is so very true. You never know what’s going in other people’s lives. E.g., our next-door neighbour tossed her husband out last year. Turns out he was an alcoholic, had been driving drunk with the kids in the car. Dh used to chat with him all the time while they were shovelling snow or mowing the lawn — we had NO idea.

I used to try to remind myself, when I was being consumed with jealousy by all the pregnant women I would see during a day, that — statistics being what they are — many of these women had probably experienced infertility or pregnancy loss too, and were probably scared to death of losing this baby. It helped. Sometimes. ; )

10 Lori Lavender Luz { 11.30.11 at 7:11 pm }

Here’s to kismetic crashing. And taking time to connect.

11 Justine { 11.30.11 at 8:08 pm }

I love, love that last sentence. There are so many times I’ve thought about this … when I used to see so many students for advising every day, and some of them would come back to me and say “remember that day when you said X?” And for all the ones that did, there were so many who didn’t, whom I know had their worlds profoundly shifted by our brief interaction. I know I did.

I wonder a lot about the subtext of people’s lives. And I wish there were a way for us all to know without saying it, so it would be easier to be kind to each other when we need it. But maybe the answer is just to be more generous *all* the time … so that it’s simply the way we are when someone needs it most.

12 {sue} { 12.01.11 at 1:22 am }

Yes. Beautiful.

13 Mina { 12.01.11 at 4:06 am }

It usually takes a little to make a nice gesture. But we often forget to take that little time or effort to do it. And we shouldn’t, because nice gestures warm our hearts for such a long time.

14 Kathy { 12.01.11 at 9:31 am }

Jen’s comment reminded me of a book that I read awhile back, when I was in college called “The Celestine Prophecy.” There was a part that talked about looking into the eyes of everyone we meet and knowing that we can learn something from them. I forget all the details behind the theory, but I was studying abroad in London during the semester that I read it and recall riding the tube around town and looking at all the passengers around me wondering if I was suppose to connect with them…

15 Gina { 12.01.11 at 10:15 am }

This is not directly related to Steve Jobs, but have you seen the latest controversy with Siri?


Just thought I’d share, as a tangential comment.

16 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 12.04.11 at 12:12 am }

I feel like I’m constantly sending emails to explain why it’s taken me so long to reply to an email. Sorry, I didn’t have electricity or internet for a week. Sorry, my mother died. Sorry, I disappeared off the face of the earth after having twin babies. The sorry I just had a miscarriage, sorry I was out of the office for IVF, etc. emails never told the real reason, though.

17 Bea { 12.22.11 at 6:36 am }

Wise and beautiful thoughts.


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