out of the freezing sky
with its depths of light,
like an angel,
it was beautiful
striking the snow and whatever was there
with a force that left the imprint
of the tips of its wings –
five feet apart – and the grabbing
and the indentation of what had been running
through the white valleys
of the snow –
And then it rose, gracefully,
and flew back to the frozen marshes,
to lurk there,
like a little lighthouse,
in the blue shadows –
so I thought:
isn’t darkness, after all,
but so much light
wrapping itself around us –
as soft as feathers –
that we are instantly weary
of looking, and looking, and shut our eyes,
not without amazement,
and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river
that is without the least dapple or shadow –
that is nothing but light – scalding, aortal light –
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.
By Mary Oliver, From House of Light copyright © 1990, Beacon Press
“You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves”
“What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
While some poetry ends, the poems last forever.
My mother-in-law (Amy’s mom) passed away last Sunday. The funeral was in Hotchkiss, Colorado yesterday. At lunch with her extended family, someone said something that stuck with me.
“No one gets out of this alive.”
I went looking for the source this morning and couldn’t find one. Amy thought it was Woody Allen, a Google search turned up Jim Morrison (due to the name of his book), Robert Heinlein was cited as saying something similar, but in the end I decided it didn’t matter. I just liked the statement.
We drove back to Boulder yesterday afternoon and got home around 9:30pm. We slept late and are having a quiet Sunday morning up in Amy’s office. It’s a beautiful sunny day in Boulder. I’m going for a six mile run in 30 minutes, we are going to have lunch at The Cheese Importers (where I’m running to), and I expect we’ll take a nap this afternoon. We’ll finish with a night in front of the TV watching The Oscars (and I’ll have my laptop in my lap, doing computer stuff while I pay partial attention to the TV.)
Basically, a normal and relaxing Sunday after an intense week. Amy handled her mom’s passing in an amazing way. It was an emotional week, with lots of ups and downs, and I tried my hardest to be present for Amy the whole week. While I blew it a few times, moments like this one show me what a remarkable person she is.
While I fantasize about the singularity and hope I live long enough to have my consciousness uploaded into something that allows me to continue to engage indefinitely, even if it’s a simulation of mortality, I accept the reality that life is finite.
When reflecting on the notion that “no one gets out of this alive,” I realize how incredibly fortunate I am to be living in the United States in 2016. I treasure my friendship. I value my freedom. I respect other’s opinions, whether they are similar or different from mine. While I get tired of many things, including the endless anger, vitriol, nastiness, discrimination, and hostility that exists in our society, I remember that this is part of the human condition and accept it.
Here’s to experiencing life to the fullest. Amy – thank you for being such an amazing partner.
Paul Kalanithi’s book When Breath Becomes Air is one of the best books I’ve ever read. I stayed up late the past two nights reading it while in bed. As I put my Kindle on the bedside table last night I had tears in my eyes.
Paul passed away on March 9, 2015 at age 37. He was a Stanford-trained neurosurgeon and writer. He was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2013, though he never smoked. He was married to Lucy (Goddard) Kalanithi who sounds like an amazing woman. When he died he had an infant daughter Cady. His family was extremely close to him.
I know Paul’s brother Jeevan Kalanithi. Jeevan co-founded Sifteo, which we invested in with True Ventures. Sifteo’s products were critically acclaimed but not commercially successful and was acquired by 3D Robotics, which we are also investors in with True Ventures. Jeevan is Chief Product Officer at 3D Robotics and has done an awesome job. And, more importantly, is an amazing person.
So, as I read Paul’s book, while I didn’t know him, I felt like I had a sense of him through knowing Jeevan. I read Paul’s New Yorker Essay My Last Day as a Surgeon which was published after he died. Read it if you want a taste of Paul’s writing, genius, empathy, beauty, and authenticity. Now, imagine an entire book like this. Read his essay Before I Go for another taste. Or try How Long Have I Got Left? which was published in the New York Times a year before he died.
If you haven’t yet bought When Breath Becomes Air, please go do it now. It’s #1 on the New York Times bestseller list for a reason. It might be the most powerful book about being human, being mortal, learning about, confronting, dealing with, and ultimately accepting one’s own mortality. It’s beautifully written – almost poetic in its rhythm – and aggressively real. There is no prognosticating, no rationalizing, no baloney – just real, raw feelings throughout the book.
And it ends suddenly. Paul dies. Unlike so many things that we hear about that are tied up nicely in a bow, life – and death – doesn’t really work this way. And Paul helps us understand this by taking us through his journey.
When I was in my mid 20s, struggling with depression and having paranoid fears about being deathly ill, my therapist recommended I read Norman Cousins book Anatomy of an Illness: As Perceived by the Patient. It changed me fundamentally and shifted my relationship with my own mortality. It didn’t eliminate my depression, but it helped me understand how my viewpoint impacted my physiology, and how important this was in healing.
Paul’s book takes this to a new level. Like Cousins, it’s deeply personal, but by being current, it’s more accessible. And for me, more powerful.
Thank you Paul for writing this book. And thank you to Paul’s family for bringing it into the world.
I woke up to an email today from Aaron Schwartz, founder of Modify. I don’t know Aaron other than our email exchanges but he thanked me for Venture Deals which he said has been very helpful to him. His note went on to say:
A close friend of mine, and one of my best friend’s co-founders just passed away after a 15-month battle with non-smoker’s lung cancer. I thought the below article was incredibly revealing about how meaningful a partner and leader can be for a start-up. If you think it would be useful to other entrepreneurs, I hope you’ll take a moment and share it.
I went on to read Farewell Hansoo, We’ll Miss You, a beautiful tribute by Bhavin Parikh, the CEO and co-founder of Magoosh. At the end, I had tears in my eyes. Hansoo is 35 and just died of cancer, which was discovered a year ago. I have several friends fighting cancer right now and had one die last year and this story really touched me – of the intimacy of the relationship between co-founders, the beauty of spirit of Hansoo, and how rapidly loved ones and partners can be taken from us.
I just made a donation to the The Hansoo Lee Fellowship to support entrepreneurs. The fellowship will provide a stipend and mentorship to help Berkeley-Haas MBA students pursue their venture full-time for their summer internship, as Hansoo did. MBA students will receive a summer stipend of $5 – $10K, Mentorship from Haas alums focused on entrepreneurship, and office space.
An hour ago I received a phone call from one of my closest friends who has been a hugely influential mentor of mine that his wife had passed away. She was a close friend also and they’ve had an enormous impact on my life. She’s been ill for a while so this isn’t a surprise and when I saw her about a month ago I knew her time was coming. But it’s still incredibly hard to process, especially knowing how close they were as a couple.
I had a longer post queued up today but it’ll have to wait for tomorrow. For now, I’m going to just let my emotions be whatever they are, feel love for my close friend, send him as much good karma as I can, and remind myself to live every moment of life as though it could end tomorrow.