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Marlo Thomas Headshot

Remembering 2011: The Mogul and the Protesters

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The two most inspiring news stories of 2011 were about a brilliant business mogul and a protest movement that decried big business. How very American.

Of the hundreds of billions of words spoken in 2011, the ones that affected me the most were, "Oh, wow." According to published reports, that phrase was uttered three times by Steve Jobs as he lay on his death bed in October. Gazing at his sister, then at his children, then at his wife, and then past all of them to a point in space that presumably only he could see, he said simply, "Oh, wow. Oh, wow. Oh, wow."

I have not been able to get that thought out of my mind. What did Steve Jobs see as he passed from this life? What had he just figured out? I wonder about this because I am one hundred percent certain that he saw something. This was a man who had given us a lifetime of wows -- pouring himself, year after year, decade after decade, into one ground-breaking invention after another. He changed the world by expanding its imagination; and throughout it all, he did not permit his genius to be hobbled by self-doubt, nor tripped up by those kinds of pervasive questions that keep so many of us from taking that next bold step forward. Whenever we peeled the clear plastic off yet another new shiny white box stamped with that handsome silver Apple logo, we did more than just marvel at Jobs' latest technological leap -- we participated in his adventure. Because in the end, it was for all of us that Jobs conjured his awesome creations.

So it makes perfect sense that, even in his final moments, Steve Jobs was once again celebrating the joy of discovery. That is how he lived his life. And that is how he left it.

If the worldwide outpouring of praise for the life and work of Steve Jobs was nearly unanimous last October, the same could not be said for that other newsworthy event of 2011 -- the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Indeed, many commentators challenged its purpose, its intent, its concrete goals. And yet as I read the many stories about OWS in the latter part of the year, I often found myself softly uttering the word "Wow." Because not unlike a palm-sized device that plays music or a computer that's flattened down to the size of a notepad, Occupy Wall Street reminded us once again about the potency -- and durability -- of the human spirit. At the end of the day, OWS gave truth to that timeworn sentiment that dissent is the greatest form of patriotism.

As someone who participated in the movements of the turbulent 60s and 70s, I remember that, no matter the mission, the protests and marches and demonstrations never grew out of a disrespect for our nation, but rather a deep love for its commitment to our unique brand of democracy. And most important, our faith in our historic freedoms is what always drove us. I also know that the lifeblood of any successful movement is inherent in the word itself -- "movement." If done right, it can move us to inspiration. It can move us to change. It can move us to rethink our preconceived notions of fairness and injustice, of right and wrong. And so despite the controversy that constantly swirled around those throngs that gathered in cities across the country and around the world this year, Occupy Wall Street grabbed our attention -- like the best of movements -- and made us think.

Steve Jobs. Occupy Wall Street. Wow.