In Memory – Steve Jobs, Joanne Kuan, Uncle Ram, Raja Segran
I don’t normally write long posts. Most people don’t have the time or the inclination to plough through a litter pile of copy. Hence, I always strive to put across big ideas in as few letters as possible. My aim is 500 words.
Today is an exception. This sits at 1300+ words. I am compelled to write this in memory of Steve Jobs. But not only Steve Jobs but also Joanne Kwan, Uncle Ram and Raja Segran.
When I heard of the death of Steve Jobs it affected me more than I thought it would. I didn’t even know the guy. I didn’t grow up with him or Apple. I grew up with Michael Jackson, I partied to him as a teenager, and I’ve been to his concerts and even to his hometown in Gary, Indiana.
But somehow, Jobs’ death affected me more personally.
The way I heard the news itself was poignant. I was awoken by a sound late morning the day Jobs died. I had a late night working and I had slept in.
I heard a “Bing”! It was my iPad next to me. An alert from a news app that I have pushed a message on the screen.
“Steve Jobs dead”. That was it. On my iPad.
I was jolted awake. I Googled various news sources to make sure it was not a hoax. It was real. I felt a sense of real loss.
So for the next hour, I asked myself, why? I didn’t even know the guy. I tossed around a few reasons. He was a legend. He turned Apple around. He had an interesting and endearing story – an orphan, a college dropout, kicked out of his own company, turned around a rotten Apple. He had presence. He was real.
But you know, that really didn’t explain why the loss felt palpable.
Then it struck me. Steve Jobs, through Apple, made a personal impact on my life.
Since I was young, I’ve loved to write. I’ve always been a dreamer, even as a very young boy. As a teenager, I dreamed about being a writer. I kept journals for as long as I can remember. In my lowest moments, I would write. However, the school system, societal pressures and practical considerations led me into corporate life for twenty years. For a period, I forgot my dream.
Then I decided to flirt with Apple. I bought my first iMac in the 1998 – a Bondi Blue G3. Just owning that machine resurrected the dreams of my youth and made me believe again. Somehow, having a Mac made me “creative”. Actually more important than that, it made me believe I was creative.
And I associated the Mac with Steve Jobs. Just as his career was resurrected, so was my dream.
I am now living the dream. Apple made me believe. Jobs made me believe.
So his death personally affected me.
But Jobs is not the most important person or death in my life. I got to thinking about people I have known and have gone before, and whose passing affected me deeply.
Not all deaths affect me equally. However, there were a number of them that did. I’ll mention three of them here. These three people, I think about often. And to be honest, I don’t think about them every day but often enough. But more significantly, when I do, I remember them because of the positive impact they had on my life.
They changed my life. And in that sense, they live in me.
These people, in my eyes are as valuable as Jobs’ live. In fact, they made me understand that each of us is of infinite value because of the impact we can make. One life impacted is of infinite value. I realized that if you made a difference to one person or a million people, the value is the same. Divine mathematics.
The first person I want to mention is my Uncle Ram. My father’s sister’s husband. I have a generally boisterous family. They are colourful, opinionated, fun loving and generally loud – in a good way. Think animated Italian families. Uncle Ram was unlike them. In fact, I’m much like him. I prefer private conversations to parties. I prefer discussion to arguments. I prefer quiet to noise.
He always had time for me. Quietly and privately he would speak words of encouragement to me. When I got married, as is the custom, many gave gifts and money. So did he. But he did so quietly, when no one was watching. I’m not even sure if his wife, my aunty, knew. And the amount he gave at that time was substantial. That’s the sort of guy he was. In a society where we crave accolades, approval and praise, he was a kind person in an anonymous way. He made an impact on me. And in the same way, I learned to do the same. I learned that kindness is more important than glory. In the last few years before he died, he always had time for me. And whenever I was in HK on business trips, I have many friends and relatives but if I could see one person it was Uncle Ram and Aunty Baby (yeah, that’s her real name). In the last few years he was quite sick. But he always had time for me, even if it was for a little while. Thank you, Uncle Ram.
Then there is Joanne Kuan.
To be honest, I didn’t know her that well. I got to know her when she already had stage four cancer. I got to know her husband, Alex. It was the first time I saw love personified. I cannot express the journey I was privileged to witness before she went home to the Lord. To get a glimpse of it, I encourage you to read this blog, Journey of Faith. Even in her sickest moments, she had a smile. When she could hardly walk, she joined me for dinner despite having to walk a flight of stairs. A few weeks before she returned to the Lord, she summoned all her energy to attend a friend’s baptism (her ex-boss) because she wanted to celebrate the occasion.
She taught me about faith in God despite being in dire circumstances. Thank you Alex and Jo.
Then there is Raja Segran.
I hardly knew the man. He was a very senior airline executive who left the corporate environment to work in my church. Although I was already in my forties, I was quite a new Christian. I was attending a course at church and I was struggling with understanding some theological concepts, not having been a Christian for long. He was a busy, busy man. Everyone who works for my church is. After work, ministry, church and family, many do not have time for themselves. But Raja was one man who actually set aside 1-2 hours per week for me to coach me, explain things I didn’t understand and mentor me through some struggles (at that time, I was recently separated). He didn’t have to. I didn’t even ask. He was perceptive enough to notice and he volunteered. And Raja was one of those men that when you were with him, you felt you were the only one in his life. He focused on you, listened deeply and counseled with care. I knew him but for a few months. But he treated me like a real brother. Thank you Raja.
So Steve, your passing evoked a global outpouring of remorse and condolences. Your life was valuable. And so was Uncle Ram’s, Joanne Kuan’s, Raja Segran’s, countless others, mine included. Each of us, regardless of station, time or circumstance is of equal value.
Thank you Steve Jobs. Thank you Uncle Ram. Thank you Jo. Thank you Raja.
9th October 2011