In 1994, John Perry Barlow took his girlfriend to the Los Angeles airport for a flight to New York City. He would be following her later that day and would see her at the apartment they shared. At the curb, Cynthia said, “We were made for each other, Baby. Nothing can keep us apart.”
That was the last thing she ever said to Barlow, because she died during the flight.
The story of John Perry Barlow and Cynthia Horner is a love story that you’re going to want to hear. Even though it doesn’t have a happy ending, that doesn’t make the story any less compelling and thought-provoking. That’s especially true if you’re not sure you believe in “love at first sight” or “soul mates” or that sort of romantic “nonsense.”
I first heard this story years ago on the public radio show, “This American Life,” and I was reminded of it again this week when the episode was repeated. At this link, scroll down to Act Three — “When Worlds Collide”— to hear the story.
Barlow is known to different people for different reasons. I first heard of him because of his association during the ’90s with NeXT, which was the computer company Steve Jobs founded after he left Apple. He’s also the co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and is well-known as an activist for online civil liberties. Fans of the Grateful Dead will know him best as one of the band’s long-time lyricists.
In this interview, Barlow tells about the unforgettable moment when he locked eyes with the woman who changed his world. He was in San Francisco for a computer convention. She was in the same facility for a convention of psychiatrists.
Barlow’s description of what he felt like when he first saw Horner is something you’ll recognize if you’ve ever experienced it — as I have.
“I felt like I had finally met another member of my tribe,” Barlow said, “and I felt that before I said anything to her or she said anything to me.”
They immediately became a couple and were planning to marry and have children. You’ll find the eulogy that Barlow wrote for Horner’s funeral here.
For me, the lesson of this story is simple. Most people settle for acceptable relationships with nice people who should be nice spouses and parents and who should make their friends and family pleased. If that’s good enough for you, that’s your business. But if you’re fortunate enough to find what Barlow and Horner found, it’s worth holding onto, whatever the cost.
Love like that rarely happens. It changes lives when you let it.
Note: The EFF link for the eulogy has changed a couple of times over the years and I’ve updated it when I was aware of the change. If you find the link incorrect if it changes in the future, feel free to let me know and I’ll try to update it.