The last month has seen me reflecting on this question.
When news of Steve Jobs passing reached me in the middle of a workshop presentation in the Australian Capital Territory on 6 Oct 2011, there seemed a light had gone off in the world. That evening, I reviewed his 2005 Stanford University Commencement address on YouTube about connecting the dots, of love and loss, and that death was the invention of life.
What was most poignant to me is that those who have burnt brightest in our lives leave a vacuum when they leave our world. Their purpose is to inspire us in how they are being in life. While they are there, we take it for granted that they will always be there to hold that space for us, doing all the great things they do that we think we never will. Now that Steve Jobs is gone, he can no longer do what he does for us. He has inspired us even more now to step up to fill that void - to make a ding in the Universe in our way, to think differently from him, and to challenge the status quo as he left it. There is no more Steve - so we have to step up.
On Oct 15, a close colleague and friend lost his 22-year-old son to a freak accident at work when a wall fell upon him in the building he was inspecting and killed him. Yet another bright spark was put out in our world. At his memorial service on the weekend, what was evident is his family's celebration of his short yet full life. Now that he had gone, he too has inspired those left behind to continue his quiet achievements at an orphanage in post-Boxing day tsunami in Thailand.
On Oct 26, our housekeeper of 8 years who has grown to become a dear family member succumbed to her cancer and stroke in her hospital bed. Although we had been expecting the news, it was still an emotional shock. At one level, we are glad that now her spirit is free from her bodily pain. At another, we grief her passing. Yet another light that had brightened our lives this past decade has left this realm. Once again, we remember the songs she sang as she lovingly prepared our evening meals. She leaves a void of a repertoire of meals unequalled in their diversity - prepared with unconditional love. So we step up to honour her every evening with a prayer as we joyfully prepare to share our meals together as a family. Her passion lives on through this sustenance and togetherness at dinner.
Death indeed is the invention of life - as Jobs put it. Regardless of age, the 'old' leave to make way for the 'new'. The new steps up to make their meaningful mark to brighten up the world. When they have achieved their purpose - usually all too soon, they become the 'old' leaving the space for the 'new' to step up to significance. So, paying it forward, the cycle continues.
These bright sparks light the way in our lives. Just because we don't see their light anymore does not mean they are dead. They are the giants on whose shoulders we stand to put a purposeful ding in our Universe. They live on as they provide the platform to lift us up higher. They help us shine our light - and to invent more life.