The last two days have been filled with moving elegies of the creative cultural genius, Steve Jobs. Everything had to look like an iPod. Everyone wants an Apple. The iPad is owned by twelve year olds and eighty year olds. He was willing to do the job right and paid careful attention to how the product looked and felt in your hands.
What has been lost in all of this, frankly, is how this applies to me. Because I am the center of my universe. So, finally, a little perspective on the world’s loss of Steve Jobs.
Damn you, Steve Jobs, for intensifying my midlife crisis. You died at fifty-six. You are younger than my parents. You are only seventeen years older than me. And in those years you changed a culture. You fought a rare disease. You lost control of your company in a coup and then were, I hope with many abashed looks, brought back by those who ousted you. The Romans would have given you a triumph, painted your face red, and rolled you around the city in a beautifully designed chariot. We put you on YouTube.
Some of us asked you to speak at commencements. In 2005 you spoke at Stanford’s commencement and you addressed the big questions of life. You told those fresh-faced youngsters that death made space for them, but that, before too long, they would be dying to make room for others. And you talked about asking yourself everyday if what you were doing is what you would do if you knew it were your last. If the answer was “no” too many days in a row, you knew it was time for a change.

Let’s get back to me. This speech, heard as part of the celebration of your life in the wake of your death, is giving me a painful kick in the ass. Because I don’t plan on dying at 56. I bet you didn’t, either. Like many people, I spend many of my days doing something I have to do rather than what I want to do. My children have grown and are still growing and too many days I regret the little time I have spent with them. I regret that too little of that time is spent giving them my undivided attention. I regret that doing the things I don’t want to do stresses me to the point that I often can’t enjoy the time I have with my husband. That I did not take down the oral histories of my grandfathers before they died and that I have not yet interviewed my grandmothers, whom I’m still blessed to have. That I rarely even visit them. I regret that the activities that are “for me,” that I sell myself as self-actualizing are probably just selfish. And that I spend so little time doing them. Even this blog post is rushed and would benefit from more time, but I don’t have it and won’t for at least three days, so off it goes.
I tell myself I will do better when I’m retired. But 56 is nine years before my earliest possible retirement and years after all of my children are out of the house, on to their own adult lives and, for the oldest, their own midlife crises.
It’s time to make a change. Because death is the destiny we all share and we never know when we’re going to meet that destiny. If you followed the advice you gave those Stanford graduates, I imagine that you did not die full of regrets. That you could look back proudly at what you had wrought. That you made a difference. I hope your words make a difference for me.