The Words of the Dead

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. ” – Steve Jobs Stanford commencement speech, 2005.

Since Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ untimely death last week, variations of this quotation have been popping up across the internet. Honestly, I can’t think of a better thing to tell a group of college graduates. When you’re 22 and feel invincible it’s good to be reminded of your own mortality.

Studying history also keeps us mindful of the reality that life on earth is finite. Famines, wars, epidemics, even freak frontier accidents in snowstorms – the past is the story of lives beginning and ending. Historians hang onto the statements of people we can no longer interview – the words of the dead are a scarce commodity. Now that Steve Jobs has left this life, his speeches seem all the more precious.

Our fascination with the words of the departed reminds me of The Band Perry’s song “If I Die Young”:

“A penny for my thoughts, oh no, I’ll sell them for a dollar
They’re worth so much more after I’m a goner
And maybe then you’ll hear the words I been singin’
Funny when you’re dead how people start listenin'”

Who is alive today whose words we will treasure later?