Om Mani Padme Hum - In Memory of Stephen V Smith
I appreciate that you open this email presuming we are going to discuss SPACs, tech multiples, value investing, the best ways to grow your startup, and more of that ilk.
My belief is we know that all these professional/company building/asset allocation decisions we do are a game. That’s why it’s measured with money, with interest rates, etc. It's competitive. It's important, yes, but 'winning' is not the most important feature. For investing and for living, your most valuable asset is time.
One of the themes of this newsletter is it’s all personal. The actions people take. The things that are important to them. The events and memories that are meaningful.
On Day 8 of our trek in Nepal, Stevie, one of my new best friends and father to my friend, had a heart attack on the trail and passed. One minute, he was with us laughing, joking, and taking pictures; moments later, his heart had stopped. He was there with two of his children, in one of the most beautiful settings in the world, loving every minute of it.
My friends knew their father, a retired episcopal minister, would have deeply appreciated a Buddhist cremation beside the river, in the shadow of the mountain, and for us to finish the trek. And that is what we did, spreading Stevie's ashes on the top of the Thorong La Pass at 18,000 feet two days later.
We know that death is an inevitability, yet the finality might always feel shocking when it happens. Stevie had joined the Declarative Statements community only a few days prior.
He also had his own email list. I had been added only 5 days before he passed. I was excited to receive his periodic reflections. I liked how he would thank the Lord for the great experiences of life, like tasting his daughter's organic peaches: 'I take no small comfort in the fact that when a donut peach or a red haven explodes in my mouth, and drips down my chin, and transports me to a singular state of bliss, I am in the presence of the Almighty.' and that he signed off with 'blessings'.
It took only a few days into the trip for me to send Stevie a reflection I wrote on Burning Man in the context of us talking about modern religion and spirituality. And, in response, he wrote,
"Burning oneself down is a rich archetype and a central part of the mystical tradition of all faiths from time immemorial. Personal identity is no more than a construct, as ephemeral as my next breath, and to face this in ourselves takes great courage and determination, even and especially in my ripe old age. God willing, I will get to Burning Man someday, but for the moment, let us keep a gentle grasp on this fleeting life for the gift that it is."
Stevie was deeply thoughtful like that. And caring and eternally optimistic. I am grateful that I met him and become friends in his last days.
Since this experience, I frequently ask myself: What will I do to keep a gentle grasp on this fleeting life for the gift that it is?