October 8, 2011
I was doing some work at home Wednesday night. I was in the flow, really into it, so much so that I’d lost track of time and forgotten to eat dinner. When I finally came to at around a quarter to eleven, I saw the news: Steve had died.
I read some early reactions, some eulogies and remembrances from friends recounting their first experiences with Apple products, or that time Steve had said something about their own products. This sense of heartfelt solicitude, layered on top of my hunger and fatigue, made me delirious. I felt unprepared, suffocated. I needed to get out of the apartment and replenish on food and fresh air. I shut the lid of my Macbook, grabbed my wallet and iPhone, and put on my shoes to go to the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue.
The Fifth Ave store is the first and only place I’ve seen Steve in the flesh. I’d walked by, late in the morning on the day of the grand opening, when there was only a handful of people waiting in line. From across the street, I saw Steve standing on the steps in the entranceway with a couple others. He pointed up at the seams in the glass and he had a smile on his face.
They’re in the process of remodeling the glass cube right now, the cube that Steve himself designed. It’s walled up in plywood, and a message on the gray wooden shell around the facade says, “we’re simplifying the Fifth Avenue cube. By using larger, seamless pieces of glass, we’re using just 15 panes instead of 90.”
On my way there, I shared a subway car with the people that give our sleepless city its nickname. These were people just beginning their day, headed into Manhattan to work the graveyard shift. I noticed every iPhone, every set of white earbuds, and the entire ride I sat trying to figure out why I felt so compelled to go to the glass cube, why I was so affected by the passing of a man I’ve only known from a distance.
It was more than just the products he pioneered, more than their ubiquity in my daily life. There was something in a murky place within my being, some deep humanity that had been rattled. From the tangle of emotions, from all the noise in my head and heart, a single word materialized: Integrity.
Beliefs and actions are like two separate musical tones, each with its own pitch, each repeating at a certain wavelength. Integrity is when the two come together, when beliefs and actions are in total alignment. A certain cosmic vibration occurs — there is resonance.
I believe we can sense this resonance, this integrity, in people and the things they create. We recognize it, often without realizing it, because many of us go through our lives struggling to find it. For most, the waves operate at different frequencies, meeting at rare instances, crossing momentarily before veering off into opposite directions. When we come across true integrity, it puts us at attention. We align toward it, like iron filings toward the poles of a magnet. In certain individuals, that resonance is so strong, at times it can even seem to distort reality.
Don’t waste your time living someone else’s life, Steve said in his Stanford commencement speech six years ago. “Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.” He was telling all of us to turn our attention inward, to find the pitch of our own beliefs. Unless we do, we’re perpetually tuning our actions to the tones of others, doomed to be left wondering why it lacks the same resonance.
In the coming years, Steve Jobs’s life and work will be even more scrutinized, even more imitated than they are now. But to simply ask “what would Steve do?” would be to miss the point. It would be accepting the very dogma he warned us against, living with the results of his thinking, not our own. To be true to Steve, we must listen to the music playing within each of us, and tune our actions accordingly. To honor his life, we must honor our own, taking inspiration not merely from his actions and beliefs, but their integrity.
I’m looking forward to seeing the new cube, Steve. I’ll stand in the entrance and point at the seams in the glass and smile. I’ll descend the spiral staircase, those springy glass steps at my feet, and try to remember your resonance.
And I’ll listen to the music inside me and work as hard as I’ve ever worked, so that I can find my own.