What did Steve Jobs see at the end?

Here’s my syndicated column that went viral a week ago!

In my daily readings of Leo Tolstoy and George MacDonald, one thought from each converged with the other. It reminded me of an old conversation with the late great Norman Mailer, and of the late great Steve Job’s final words.

From Tolstoy: “We have measured the earth, the stars, and the depths of the seas; we have discovered riverbeds and mountains on the moon. We have built clever machines, and every day we discover something new … But something, some most important thing, is missing, and we do not know exactly what. We feel bad because we know lots of unnecessary things but do not know the most important — ourselves.”

From George MacDonald’s poetry: “You know how very hard to think, through cold and dark and dearth, that You are nearer now then when eye-seen on earth.”

I met Mailer on a media tour for his massive retrospective of his life’s work, “The Time of Our Times.” Rather than come to our radio studio, he requested a taped interview in his penthouse suite at the Chicago Four Seasons.

Given Mailer’s reputation for combative irascibility and unpredictability, I entered the penthouse lobby with some fear and trembling. My first surprise was when announced I was there to see Norman Mailer. The young receptionist asked cheerfully, “How do you spell that?”
Oh, how the legends of one generation are forgotten by the next!

The second surprise was the sight of Mailer himself, leaning on a cane as he welcomed me into his room. No assistants, no entourage, just a rather feeble looking old man unsteadily greeting me.

He gestured toward a side desk and said, “Fifty years ago I was an unknown man sitting in a hotel room with a yellow pad and pencil, and 50 years later I am an unknown man sitting in a hotel room with a yellow pad and pencil.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him the young woman down the hall could confirm this.

His energy level escalated during the interview, reaching its peak when we discussed an excerpt from his book about the Essenes, an apocalyptic, separatist Jewish group who were contemporaries of Jesus. Mailer was fascinated with Jesus and believed that the Apostle Paul had distorted Jesus’ teaching and, in his words, “f****d up Christianity.”

I mentioned I was a seminary graduate and Mailer’s irrepressible passion erupted. “Oh, I wish I would have known you were a seminary guy. I used to go out and get drunk and talk about sex, now I go out and get drunk and talk about God. I’m obsessed with God.”

His voice took on a fierce intensity.

“God is nearer than we can imagine.” He held his hand a few inches from his face. “God is this close.”

Tolstoy, MacDonald and Mailer were all older men when they sensed God’s nearness, but they shared something in common with the younger Jobs; each knew he was nearing death’s door.

Much is being made of Jobs’ apparent shift in belief in his final months. The Apple co-founder revisited his skepticism about God’s existence and revised the probability upwards. “I’m about 50-50 on believing in God,” he told biographer Walter Isaacson. “I really want to believe that something survives, that maybe your consciousness endures.”

In a eulogy delivered at his funeral, his sister Mona Simpson mentioned that Jobs was sorry they wouldn’t grow old together, but that he was going to a better place.

Then she got to Jobs’ final words.

“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.’”

What did Jobs see over their shoulders? Accounts of near-death experiences almost always refer to dazzling light, warmth and love in the presence of the divine. Everything changes.

Could it be that the beauty-loving Jobs saw something so elegant that it earned his highest praise, “Oh wow.” Did Jobs join Tolstoy, MacDonald, Mailer and others in experiencing an epiphany of God’s nearness? For his sake, I hope so.

(Dick Staub is author of “About You: Fully Human and Fully Alive” and the host of The Kindlings Muse (www.thekindlings.com). His blog can be read at www.dickstaub.com)

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Universal Press.


Posted in Staublog in November 10, 2011 by | 1 Comment »

One Response to What did Steve Jobs see at the end?

  1. Dick Staub on November 10, 2011 at 10:12 am

    […] Could it be that the beauty-loving Jobs saw something so elegant that it earned his highest praise, “Oh wow.” Read More. […]

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