A good friend of mine, who happens to be in his late 80’s — or his “Pre-Nineties” as he sometimes fondly proclaims — has been a lifelong educator. He is responsible for helping form many genius minds. As he eases into the final stage of his life, he has had to have some physical therapy to help him walk again. After his most recent round of therapy, his physical therapist told him to tell his doctors that he’s “has better balance now, has more strength now and can walk better now than ever before!” That was joyous news to my friend, but the biggest compliment was yet to come when his therapist added, “You’re teachable! You’re almost 90 years old and you’re still teachable!”
What a moment that was for my friend. After a 60-year teaching career, the teacher was still “teachable” and in the afterglow of having that terrific story shared with me, my mind turned to Steve Jobs who had just died. Was Steve Jobs teachable? Or did he think he knew more than his doctors?
Those questions rang in my ears for a few days until I read the eulogy Steve Jobs’ sister, Mona Simpson, wrote in the New York Times:
I remember my brother learning to walk again, with a chair. After his liver transplant, once a day he would get up on legs that seemed too thin to bear him, arms pitched to the chair back. He’d push that chair down the Memphis hospital corridor towards the nursing station and then he’d sit down on the chair, rest, turn around and walk back again. He counted his steps and, each day, pressed a little farther. …
Intubated, when he couldn’t talk, he asked for a notepad. He sketched devices to hold an iPad in a hospital bed. He designed new fluid monitors and x-ray equipment. He redrew that not-quite-special-enough hospital unit. And every time his wife walked into the room, I watched his smile remake itself on his face. …
His breathing changed. It became severe, deliberate, purposeful. I could feel him counting his steps again, pushing farther than before.
This is what I learned: he was working at this, too. Death didn’t happen to Steve, he achieved it.
It appears that Steve Jobs was always teaching — but was he learning? Was he “teachable” at the ripe moments, or like much of the rest of us, was he teachable only when it was too late?
Did Steve Jobs let the life around him challenge him and teach time until his final breath?
Then I wondered what our world might have been like if Steve Jobs had dedicated his life to one of formally teaching others. What if Steve had actually graduated from Reed College — instead of just attending for a semester. What if he’d earned a PhD and tenured faculty position and spent his life contemplating solutions for the bigger issues testing us — instead of designing a prettier iPod or a more beautiful MacBook Air?
Did Steve Jobs live up to the promise of his mind? Or did he just re-define the way we relate to inanimate objects? What if Steve Jobs had decided to truly leave behind a legacy of being teachable that included clues for the rest of us about how to achieve beauty and serenity — not just in design and function — but in the complete unification of our minds in our lives?