My memory of Steve Jobs
In March of 2007 I was diagnosed with a reoccurrence of neuroendrocrine pancreatic cancer. It had spread to my liver. I can’t speak for everyone, but for me news of reoccurrence was more devastating than my initial diagnosis some 18 months earlier.
From this point forward I knew that cancer was no longer going to be a stranger but an acquaintance in my life for whom I would have to make accommodations. At moments like that, surrounded in a sea of vulnerability, you reach out hoping for a lifeline somewhere.
I had heard that Steve Jobs, the creative genius behind Apple Inc., had the same disease. Maybe he could help.
I still remember the day before my surgery, going to Atlanta for pre-op. I had turned to my colleague and friend, Pat Williams and said, “I don’t care what you have to do, you get him.” She took it to heart. It took numerous tries but finally someone at Apple said, “I can’t give you his phone but here is a fax number.”
The next morning, before leaving for Atlanta to sit with my family during surgery, Pat and Rikki Massey, our finance director, composed a letter to Steve Jobs and sent it.
The letter included an email address. Maybe he would respond. All afternoon, during the seven-hour surgery, they checked their email, no response. Just as the surgeon came out, Pat received a call on her cell phone. She had not included that number in the letter.
“Hello Pat, this is Steve, Steve Jobs.”
It turns out the world’s most renowned techie had called the church before realizing we were at the hospital. After getting Pat’s number he called her cell at the hospital. He expressed concern about my condition, provided the name of his doctor along with the warning, “he can be hard to get hold of.” He also provided a phone number in case if we needed to contact him again.
Later we would find out from Job’s administrative assistant they get about a 100 faxes a day. She said, “When I got your fax I didn’t put it on his desk, I placed it in his chair.” That must have been some letter.
You don’t know what it means when somebody you don’t even know cares enough to call. I know it helped my resolve in recovery. Sure enough, Jobs was good to his word, the doctor’s office in San Francisco said I could be seen in three or four months. Three or four months! I had just had two thirds of my liver removed, in three or four months would I even be alive?!
Another call to Steve Jobs office. The next day, it was Job’s doctor , not an office assistant, who called.
“When do you want to see me this week.” Thank you, Steve.
When news of Jobs death arrived, several friends who knew of this connection asked me how I was doing. Oddly, perhaps, I’m okay. Following that second surgery I have resolved not to experience a “second death,” to borrow a phrase from Revelation.
The problem with cancer is not that it will kill you, we will all die of something after all, it is that if you are not careful it can fill your existence with dread. I have come to understand that most of what I might imagine about cancer is just that, imaginary. And when I dwell on it I forfeit the here and now. And the life I have now, with cancer, is certainly worth living.
In some respects this reality of sickness provides a deeper, richer existence than wellness could ever have afforded. Remember what the novelist Flannery O’Connor, who battled lupus, said: “Sickness is more instructive than a long trip to Europe.”
The prospect of death removes all those artificial constructs that separate us from one another: position, privilege, place. It allows us to better relate to each other essentially, truthfully, compassionately. In one of the conversations with Steve Jobs administrative assistant she said, “People don’t know, he is such a good man.”
I will always be grateful that I experienced his goodness first-hand.
I related some of what took place, now almost four years ago, to his administrative assistant in an email last week. She wrote back and thanked me.
I wanted to say, “No, thank you. And him.”
Greg Porterfield is senior pastor of Wesley UMC in Evans.