A commenter named ShaunTKennedy had this to say on a Gawker post about Steve Jobs' passing:
...And if you've ever, EVER, cried over the death of someone you didn't know, there IS something wrong with you. There's empathy and there's emotional fragility...I suspect there is something wrong with a person who cannot feel empathy and grief for anyone they don't know personally.
Steve Jobs was not God, written by Gawker columnist Hamilton Nolan, questioned the public mourning for the tech CEO:
Among my Facebook friends yesterday, more than one wrote publicly that they were "crying" or "can't stop crying" or "teared up" due to Steve Jobs' death. Really now. You can't stop crying, now that you've heard that a middle-aged CEO has passed on, after a long battle with cancer? If humans were always so empathetic, well, that would be understandable. But this type of one-upmanship of public displays of grief is both unbecoming and undeserved. Read more...I have grieved for public figures.
I cried watching coverage of Sen. Edward Kennedy's funeral, because I am just old enough to have had posthumous photos of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King in my childhood home; and because of all the work Ted Kennedy did in the Senate to make ours a better country, despite his personal failings and the tremendous weight of family legacy; and because of the grief stricken faces of his children and wife. For all these reasons, I cried.
I felt melancholy the week that Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett died. Not because I was a huge fan of either, but because I watched Charlie's Angels faithfully as a child and played the grooves off of Off the Wall when it came out. I still remember the Tiger Beat magazines my best friend's older sister had that pitted the Jackson 5 against the Osmonds for the readers' romantic affections. I am confused as to where the years have gone. It makes no sense that Michael Jackson would be 50 years old, much less dead. The passing of two icons of the 70s makes me face my own mortality and there is a grief in that.
Amy Winehouse's death earlier this year effected me similarly. I did not grow up with her, but I was a fan. Her albums Frank and Back to Black remained on "heavy rotation" in my playlist. As a writer, I admired her frank, funny and passionate lyrics. As a fellow human being, I noticed the pain and fragility in her words. It was easy to recognize a young woman with big talent and even bigger demons. When I saw Winehouse's last filmed moment on stage, I feared then that she wouldn't defeat what was chasing her. She was such a visible mess. And then she was dead. And I felt bad about that. I felt bad that she lived such a painful life. And I felt bad for all the pain she had likely caused her friends and family who had to deal with the ugly side of being close to an addict and someone fighting mental illness. I watch that video of Amy performing "Body and Soul" with Tony Bennett and I'm still sad.
Then there is Steve Jobs. The very simplest interpretation of his life is that he was the CEO of a billion dollar international enterprise. But there is a reason Jobs was where he was. He was both an innovator and an inventor. He was someone who, in the words of early Apple ads, thought different. And his different thinking allowed him to revolutionize the way we communicate. I'm of the opinion that the world could use more people who think differently and put those thoughts into action--revolutionaries. Anytime we lose one of these bold women or men, it is a tremendous loss.
Of course, Jobs wasn't the only revolutionary to pass away. On the same day, civil rights activist Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth breathed his last. Much ado has been made about the fact that Jobs, a corporate figure and marketer provoked so much ink and public tears in comparison to a man who worked to liberate millions of people through his work in civil rights. No matter how much I love my various iGadgets, no doubt Shuttlesworth did far more for me--a black woman--than Steve Jobs. But I have been exposed to more of Jobs. I read about him in magazines. I watched him at every Apple launch. His speeches were archived on You Tube. Cameras watched as his body was ravaged by cancer. And so I felt Jobs' passing a bit more keenly than Shuttlesworth's, merely because Jobs was made more present in my day-to-day life.
Why don't we as a society fete the people who do the toughest and dirtiest work in making the world better? Why can I watch tales of murder and mayhem on the evening news without flinching, but have to leave the room to avoid those wretched ASPCA ads with the sad music and shivering sad-eyed critters? Why did my heart feel heavy at the moment of Troy Davis' death, when many other people have been victims of state-sponsored murder? Now we can argue that these hypocrisies are ugly. We should argue that. But when we have this argument, we shouldn't argue for less love and compassion, but more. Empathy and caring are rarely wasted. There is no premium on these things. Indeed, the ability to care for people beyond an immediate circle is part of what makes people like Rev. Shuttlesworth great. We can care about a millionaire genius inventor and the Southern minister who worked on behalf of marginalized people at great personal cost. We can care about kittens and children. We can have compassion for all living things and no one loses.
I can say that, at the news of Jobs' passing, I felt no urge to rush down to my local Apple store to build a shrine. But would you rather spend time with someone who lays flowers in front of the nearby branch of a company built by an imperfect man taken from his family too soon by cancer or someone who takes to his computer to mock and eye-roll at others' displays of sadness? Which behavior is more useless? I know my answer.
Photo Credit: Gawker