The not so odd final words of Steve.

Recently, the New York Times published the eulogy Mona Simpson gave for her brother Steve Jobs. It is beautiful, moving and deeply insightful. However it is the last few lines that struck a deep chord with me.

Spoiler alert…If you’d like to read the eulogy first, then click here.

My father, Clive, died of a degenerative neurological disease 8 years ago. I was living in Sydney at the time and a week before he died, my cousin called to say that Dad had been admitted to hospital with an infection and while he could no longer speak or write, he’d managed to make it clear that not only did he not want to be treated with antibiotics, but he was refusing all food and water. He was choosing to go.

Dad had been diagnosed with Lewy Body disease 7 years before his death and during that time had gone from being a proud, fit, immensely self-disciplined (sometimes even a little Victorian) surgeon to a wizened little old man unable to walk, talk or care for himself. Witnessing the deterioration was at times almost intolerable. And watching him die was, I think, quite possibly the most challenging thing I’ve experienced. I spent that last week with him, barely leaving his room. I talked to him, listened to the classical music he loved so much and sat in silence reading the final Harry Potter book as his body shut down.

However there were moments of light. Dad’s sense of humour was dry, gentle and occasionally wicked. His determination formidable. At one point his sister found him taking his own pulse. ‘What are you doing CB?!’ she exclaimed and caught the faintest glimmer of a smile. In the place he’d worked for so many years as a physician, the staff were truly wonderful, nurses who’d assisted him in theatre came and sat for a while softly stroking his hand. At times the room was full of family and friends hooting with laughter, recounting escapades and adventures.

For the last few days of his life my father was mostly unconscious, doped up on morphine, a sallow skinned shell of a man. Occasionally his eyes would half open, but as Harry and Voldemort waged their final battle, Dad did not ‘rage against the dying of the light’ instead he let go, breath by shuddering breath, winding down like an elegant antique watch.

However on the clear, sunny winter’s morning that Dad died, my cousin and I were sitting quietly talking in his room when he suddenly, unexpectedly, sat bolt upright. No longer cloudy, his eyes were clear and bright. The sallow complexion and weighty aura had been replaced by something much clearer and lighter. He sat there, for those last few seconds, and looked not at us, but past us with an expression of wonder.

And yet the thing that really took my breath away and has kept me wondering ever since, was that in his expression I could see recognition. It was as if he was seeing something he recognised and this delighted him beyond measure.

I’ve spoken to doctor friends who have explained his reaction in terms of biochemistry. But those doctor friends weren’t there. I knew my father, I saw what happened and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that he saw something, someone, somewhere he recognised.

My father was not religious. I don’t recollect hearing him ever hear him say anything remotely spiritual. While he was something of a renaissance man (farmer, artist, sportsman), he was essentially a man of science. He even considered chiropractors and psychologists to be on the fringe. Yet this absolute lack of spiritual belief and practice made his behavior in those final few seconds even more remarkable.

As I read the final line of Mona Simpson’s eulogy for her brother Steve, describing his final few moments of looking past family and saying ‘OH WOW. OH WOW. OH WOW.’ – I said ‘Oh wow’, out loud, too. While I don’t know what Dad saw and I obviously have no idea what Steve saw, I recognise in Mona’s telling of Steve’s final moments, the experience of bearing witness to someone passing into the Wow. Wherever and whatever that may be…

The day after Mona’s eulogy for Steve was published the NZ Herald printed an article entitled ‘Steve Jobs’ odd last words revealed‘ noting that apparently before his death Thomas “Edison emerged from a coma, opened his eyes, looked upwards and said ‘It is very beautiful over there’.

Steve, Thomas, Dad. Maybe not so odd after all.


I would love to hear from anyone else who has shared a similar experience.




Dreaming of the miracle that is you.

Last month, I had one of the most vivid dreams I’ve experienced in years. The background to this dream is that here at home, we have a compost heap. And a month ago, on top of the compost there were old apples from a tree in the garden and wasps feasting.

In the dream, I saw the same compost heap but it was covered with old blankets. And while I didn’t know why the blankets were there, I did know that somehow I had to uncover it, without sending the wasps into a frenzy. Apprehensive but determined to do it, I took a deep breath and walked purposefully down the garden path.

Very quietly, gently, firmly, I took hold of one corner of one of the blanket and began to peel it away. And as I did, I heard a sudden fluttering of insects wings. I flinched. Turned away with my eyes tightly shut, expecting at any second to be stung. But it didn’t happen, the fluttering stop, I couldn’t hear any furious buzzing. So very slowly I turned back to the heap and was rendered speechless by what I discovered. For the compost – and all the wasps – had disappeared, and instead there was a clear surface made of dark shiny wood and it was completely covered with butterflies. Hundreds of them.

But these weren’t ordinary butterflies. While they were as ethereal and ephemeral as butterflies, shared the same delicate structure and were the same size, these little creatures represented every animal on earth. A miniature ark. As they fluttered one by one (rather than two by two), my eyes alighted on a tiny giraffe, a tiny elephant, a tiny lion, a tiny wolf, a tiny buffalo. All butterfly-like. Down the back of the garden on a wooden stage.

I was delighted. I felt lit up. And still felt that way when I awoke. I don’t always write my dreams down, but I did with this one and it has lingered during these past 4 weeks.

Last night, before I went to sleep, I came across a TED talk by cinematographer Louie Schwartzberg on the hidden beauty of pollination. You will find it below. Please, watch it before you leave. It’s only 7 minutes.

Today, walking home from a conversation about death with a group of wonderful people (it sounds grim, but was far from it) I found myself thinking about how miraculous life is. Recently I watched a presentation (online) given by one of my heroes, Sir Ken Robinson. In it, he suggests (and you can tell he really does find this miraculous) that we all just stop for a moment and consider how many people had to connect, down through the generations, in order for each one of us to be here. Think about your own family tree, how many people had to meet in order for you to be here.

This past month, I’ve found myself quite fascinated by quantum physics, quantum biology, astrophysics and astronomy. And so this evening, I’ve been thinking about how miraculous it is that I am, you are, not only a part of a family tree, but a part of this tree of life. If you consider the universe (I’ll admit that’s easier said than done) and imagine yourself on its outer most edge, then zoom in through space to this pale blue dot of a planet, home to an estimated 11 million species and 6.9 billion humans and the stage for a 4.55 billion year history of life on earth, how mind-bogglingly, goosebumpingly, light-a-fire-in-your-belly miraculous it is that you are here. You. Are. Alive.

Sit with that for a moment. The miracle that is you. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Feel it. In your body, in your mind, in your heart. In your soul.

How does it feel?

Let me know, I’d love to hear from you.


The university works in mysterious ways

In the early 90s I studied law and art history at university. Art history because I loved art. The law, because I was advised by my career advisor at school to not just study art history.

I spent five and half years at uni and for the most part, wondered what the hell I was doing. There was no burning desire to be a lawyer. Nor, for that matter, did I want to pursue a career in the history of art. I nearly flagged the whole thing several times to pursue fashion design but didn’t. Partly because I couldn’t sew, in part because of the family pressure (and to be honest my own self imposed pressure) to finish a law degree.

I can still remember sitting in the law library looking around at all those self-assured young people, who seemed to know exactly who they were and what they doing and feeling an almost overwhelming sense of discomfort in my own skin. I had no sense of the direction in which my life was heading.

I’m not sure how many people were in my year of law school, hundreds I guess. Obviously, there were many I passed daily in a corridor and yet never had a conversation with. One in particular haunted me for all my years at uni, because she appeared to be everything I wished I was.

Lucinda (not her real name) exuded confidence. She was beautiful, smart and popular. Striding through the law school, she wore floaty flowery skirts in the summertime and trailed the scent of some expensive French perfume behind her. I would look at her, with gritted teeth, and just know that she would go on to be an extremely successful lawyer, marry an extremely lawyer, have beautiful children and live in a beautiful house.

Years passed. I found myself guiding media around a yet to be opened Te Papa. Participating in a disaster relief effort in India. Making a documentary film. Having lunch with a famous author in New York. And today, I found myself in the same street as Lucinda. At least I’m 99.9% sure it was her.

And because this is 2010 and you can find anything on the internet, I’ve discovered that just as I anticipated, she is indeed an extremely successful lawyer, has married one and has children. I’m going to continue to assume that they’re beautiful and that their house is too. I’ll even throw in an Audi wagon and a labrador for good measure.

Was I surprised to see Lucinda in the street? Of course. But what surprised me even more was my own reaction. Not one of discomfort, but absolute delight.

Because it might have taken me a whole lot longer than Lucinda the Confident, but today I am truly comfortable in my own skin. I love what I do, I know who I am, I have found my voice. And although I may not have a floaty, flowery skirt in my wardrobe, I’m wearing the prototypes of my own clothing range and trailing the scent of a beautiful English perfume.