In his memorable speech at Stanford University, Steve Jobs‘s words had left astounded thousands of students who were there for him in adoration. His warnings were of a peculiar nature :”Don’t forget one day you will die“, “Don’t waste your life living someone else’s life“. It had sounded bewildering at first, after all, why so young and privileged students who were just about to graduate in one of the most famous American universities should think about dying, rather than, I don’t know, how to be successful pretty soon? Because death makes life meaningful. Life is short and we had better live it fully with no fear, that’s why Steve Jobs had invited them to follow the paths of “foolishness” rather than conformity. Life is short. We must be conscious of that. However, it’s not so easy and very often we reach the necessary degree of awareness only when we age or when it is too late, thus becoming like George Gray.
This is exactly the theme of this amazing poem from the anthology of Spoon Rivers by Edgar Lee Master. We are in a cemetery and a man, George Gray, is watching a tombstone, his tombstone. He is dead. He is pondering the ironic design of his gravestone : a marble sailboat, which seems a most befitting symbol for a life fool of motion and adventure. His life , actually, had been like a boat, but with its sails rolled in the harbor, under cover of the rough winds of Ambition, Sorrow and Love. He had always chosen the simplest and the safest route: no effort, no risk, but he couldn’t escape the uneasiness of such a life because each of us intimately “hungers” for meaning. To live is “lifting” the sails and “catching” the winds of destiny wherever they will take us, otherwise the sense of unrest will overwhelm and torture us. Only now he understands, now that it is too late, that he had never truly lived.
Do it, before it is too late.
By: Edgar Lee Master
“I have studied many times
The marble which was chiseled for me—
A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor.
In truth it pictures not my destination
But my life.
For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment;
Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid;
Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances.
Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life.
And now I know that we must lift the sail
And catch the winds of destiny
Wherever they drive the boat.
To put meaning in one’s life may end in madness,
But life without meaning is the torture
Of restlessness and vague desire—
It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.”