Friday, March 09, 2012

Eight years today

The car in front of me kept hesitating. The driver couldn't seem to decide where to turn. Up ahead I could see that the light was green, but that I wasn't going to make it through in time because this car was in my way. I started to feel slightly agitated, but reminded myself to simply accept the current situation. I can't even see the other timelines, maybe this one is somehow better. It's a practice that I had started while my daughter was in the hospital. Accept. Accept. Accept. Slow drivers are a rather minor stress relative to a having a baby that may not survive, but the practice is remarkably similar. And the key to practice is repetition, every day, every moment. Traffic provides me with plenty of opportunities to practice. 

Finally she turned in to the parking lot at Trader Joe's and I proceeded to the light, which was now red. It soon turned green, I crossed El Camino, and then stopped for the passing train, which was immediately in front of me. After it passed, I saw his body on the ground just to the other side of the tracks. I saw other things there too, but I'll spare you the details. I tried calling 911, but I got a recorded message saying that they were busy. Obviously I wasn't the only one calling. The police soon arrived, and directed us to turn down a side street, away from the scene. 

I then turned left on Waverley St, and slowly drove past my brother's old apartment, pausing to remember all that had transpired there. But my mind was still preoccupied with what I had just seen, and it didn't even register what day it is today. 

The winter of 2004 felt so cold and rainy, the coldest I can remember it ever being here in California. The cold had a kind of depth that you can't quite escape. But on March 9th it was sunny and starting to get a little warm. Winter was over, and my brother had just died that morning. We left the hospital and returned to his apartment in Menlo Park. It felt so wrong. He was gone, but his belongings were still there. Eventually we would have to pack them all into boxes, keeping some for ourselves, and donating the rest. It does not feel good to pack up the remains of your brother's life.

It had only been three months since he found out. We had dinner Sunday night at a Chinese restaurant in Mountain View. Afterwards, he was feeling a little nauseous and went home early. After a few days of not being able to keep any food down, he went to the doctor. He had an intestinal blockage. Caused by a tumor. Pancreatic cancer. The very bad kind. It eats you alive, and in his case, it also blocked his own food supply. Although his death was rather quick, it was also very slow. Three months of torture, but I'll spare you the details. He was only 33 years old. Steve was a very good person. He did not deserve that. Nobody does.

After the funeral, I returned to work. Sometimes, it's wonderful to be able to focus my mind on something simple, something I can control, like computers. A few weeks later we launched Gmail. Later that summer Google had its IPO. Life is unfair. Very unfair.

Eventually my parents finished packing up Steve's apartment and drove back home to New York. I didn't even begin to understand what they had gone through until the following year, when my daughter was born 100 days early. There were many complications, and it often seemed like she wouldn't make it, but I'll spare you the details. The pain is worse than you can imagine. It's worse than I can now imagine. Luckily she survived and is doing well. She has the strongest spirit of anyone I've ever met.

And that brings me back to today, March 9th, 2012. Eight years since Steve died. I keep looking for meaning, but all I've found so far is that in order to be at peace with the present, we must be at peace with the past, because the present is a product of the past. Accept. Accept. Accept. Learn to love the present moment. What happened, happened. It's difficult to understand the big picture when our lives are mere brush strokes on the canvas of reality. Trusting that it all fits together to form something beautiful is the purest form of faith. Anything else is a dangerous distraction. No contracts with God, no expectations of reward, just trust.

On a more practical level, what matters most in our day-to-day lives is that we're good to ourselves and to each other. It's actually not possible to only do one or the other -- we must do both or neither, but that's a topic for another time. Sometimes, when I write about startups or other interests of mine, I worry that perhaps I'm communicating the wrong priorities. Investing money, creating new products, and all the other things we do are wonderful games and can be a lot of fun, but it's important to remember that it's all just a game. What's most important is that we are good too each other, and ourselves. If we "win", but have failed to do that, then we have lost. Winning is nothing. This doesn't mean that we can't push ourselves or stretch our own limits. Those things can be very healthy, but only when done for their own sake. Ultimately, the people who learn to love what they do who will be the ones who accomplish the most anyway. Those who push only for the sake of some future reward, or to avoid failure, very often burn out, sometimes tragically. Please don't do that.

Please be good to each other, and your self.