Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Last Lecture

On September 18, 2007, computer science professor Randy Pausch stepped in front of an audience of 400 people at Carnegie Mellon University to deliver a last lecture called “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams." A lot of professors give talks titled "The Last Lecture". Professors are asked to consider their demise and rumninate on what matters most to them. When Randy Pausch was asked to give such a lecture he didn't have to imagine it as his last, since he had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. But the lecture he gave wasn't about dying. It was about overcoming obstacles, of enabling the dreams of others, of seizing every moment (because "time is all you have... and you may find one day that you have less than you think"). It was a summation of everything Randy had come to believe. It was about living. Randy’s lecture has become a phenomenon, as has the book he wrote based on the same principles, celebrating the dreams we all strive to make realities.

I first read the book then later viewed the lecture itself on You Tube. While the live lecture was both gripping and inspirational and I strongly recommend viewing it, I found the book to be both more poignant and emotional. This no doubt was by design as it would have been nearly impossible for Dr. Pausch to hold it together on stage had he spoken about his wife and children during the live lecture. So the book essentially picks up where the lecture leaves off and you can't experience the full power of Dr. Pausch's words without also reading the book, especially the last few sections. That being said I felt compelled to document and comment on certain passages from the book that I found particularly moving.

On page 185, Dr. Pausch writes about hearing from a man in his early forties with serious heart problems: "He wrote to tell me about Krishnamurti, a spiritual leader in India who died in 1986. Krishnamurti was once asked what is the most appropriate thing to say to a friend who was about to die. He answered: "Tell your friend that in his death, a part of you dies and goes with him. Wherever he goes, you also go. He will not be alone." In his e-mail to me, this man was reassuring: I know you are not alone."
- We've all lost people we love, and death is perhaps the most painful thing we will experience in life. This passage is both insightful and comforting. Enjoy your loved ones while they are still alive and provide reassurance to them in the afterlife.

On page 186, Dr. Pausch writes about an interview with TV news anchor Diane Sawyer: "... and when the cameras were off, (she) helped me think more clearly about the touchstones I'll be leaving for my kids. She gave me an incredible piece of advice. I knew I was going to leave my kids letters and videos. But she told me the crucial thing is to tell them the specific idiosyncratic ways in which I related to them. So I've been thinking a lot about that. I've decided to tell each of my kids things like: "I love the way you tilted back your head when you laughed." I will give them specific stuff they can grasp."
- If you have kids you can't help but be moved by this passage, and to feel a little selfish about how much we as parents take for granted. Enjoy every little perfect detail about your kids. You never know how much longer you'll be around to enjoy them.

On page 187, Dr. Pausch writes about a conversation he had with his minister after he received the terminal diagnosis: "You have life insurance, right?" he said. "Yes, it's all in place," I told him. "Well, you also need emotional insurance," he said. And then he explained that the premiums of emotional insurance would be paid for with my time, not my money. To that end, he suggested that I needed to spend hours making videotapes of myself with the kids, so they'll have a record of how we played and laughed. Years from now, they will be able to see the ease with which we touched each other and interacted. He also gave me his thoughts on specific things I could do for Jai to leave her a record of my love."
- This is very sad but it's another good reminder of how much we take for granted in good health. It doesn't matter how much money you earn or how much financial security you provide for your family, if you don't give them the most valuable asset of all - your time. Do whatever it takes to spend as much time as possible with your wife and kids right now, and it will pay dividends for the rest of your lives.

On pages 191 & 192, Dr. Pausch writes about his thoughts on death and leaving his young children behind (this is where I completely lost it): "I want the kids to know who I am, what I've always believed in, and all the ways in which I've come to love them... Jai and I haven't even told them yet that I'm dying... And so my kids remain unaware that in my every encounter with them I'm saying goodbye. It pains me to think that when they're older, they won't have a father. When I cry in the shower, I'm not usually thinking, "I won't get to see them do this" or "I won't get to see them do that." I'm thinking about the kids not having a father. I'm focused more on what they're going to lose than on what I'm going to lose. Yes, a percentage of my sadness is, "I won't, I won't, I won't..." But a bigger part of me grieves for them. I keep thinking, "They won't... they won't... they won't." That's what chews me up inside, when I let it."
- I can't even imagine the torture of knowing that you're going to die and leave your young children behind. Dr. Pausch is courageous and strong, and his words make me fully appreciate both the fragility and the beauty of life.

On page 193, Dr. Pausch writes about his 18-month old daughter: "I'm aware that Chloe may have no memory of me at all. She's too young. But I want her to grow up knowing that I was the first man ever to fall in love with her." I can't hold back the tears as I read this passage over and over again.
- I have a daughter and it pains me to read this. But some day Chloe will read her Dad's words and even though she will be deeply saddened by the father she never got to know, she will be touched and inspired by his love.

On page 194, Dr. Pausch writes about speaking to other people who lost their parents at a very young age: "Lately, I've been making a point of speaking to people who lost parents when they were very young. I want to know what got them through the hard times, and what keepsakes have been most meaningful to them. They told me they found it consoling to learn about how much their mothers and father loved them. The more they knew , the more they could still feel that love."
- While you're still living make it a point to show your kids how much you love them everyday and in every way. That way if anything should ever happen to you, your kids will always know exactly how you felt about them.

On page 198, Dr. Pausch writes about the dreams of his children: "So my dreams for my kids are very exact: I want them to find their own path to fulfillment. And given that I won't be there, I want to make this clear: Kids, don't try to figure out what I wanted you to become. I want you to become what you want to become."
- This is great advice for any parent. It's important not to live vicariously through our children. They are not us. They are unique and wonderful individuals. Encourage them and prepare them to succeed, but above all else let them live their own lives.

On page 200, Dr. Pausch writes about what life will be like for his wife (Jai) when he's gone: "There are so many things Jai and I are discussing as we work to come to terms with what her life will be like after I'm gone.  "Lucky" is a strange word to use to describe my situation, but a part of me does feel fortunate that I didn't get hit by the proverbial bus. Cancer has given me the time to have these vital conversations with Jai that wouldn't be possible if my fate were a heart attack or a car accident."
- This passage is a testament to Dr. Pausch's unbreakable positivity and optimism. Dr. Pausch is an accomplished researcher and professor with a distinguished academic career, but even more impressive are his accomplishments as a human being. Attitude is infectious and I can't help but be inspired by Dr. Pausch's exceptional attitude, even in the face of death.

On page 202, Dr. Pausch writes about his marriage: "Jai and I work hard at our marriage. We've gotten so much better at communicating, at sensing each other's needs and strengths, and at finding more things to love about each other. So it saddens us that we won't get to experience this richness in our marriage for the next thirty or forty years. We won't get to amortize the hard efforts we've put in so far. Still, we wouldn't trade our eight years of marriage for anything."
- If you have a happy marriage enjoy it. If you have an unhappy marriage fix it. Try to remember why you got together in the first place and get back to that spot. Marriage isn't easy but it's a labor of love. And you'll only get out of your marriage what you put into it. Don't wait until you're confronted with death to figure this out.

The passage from the book that I found perhaps the most poignant and pertinent to the way people should lead their lives comes from pages 62 & 63, where Dr. Pausch writes about the moments after he receives the terminal diagnosis: "Leaving the doctor's office, I thought about what I'd said to Jai in the water park in the afterglow of the speed slide. "Even if the scan results are bad tomorrow," I had told her, "I just want you to know that it feels great to be alive, and to be here today, alive with you. Whatever news we get about the scans, I'm not going to die when we hear it. I won't die the next day, or the next day after that, or the day after that. So today, right now, well this is a wonderful day. And I want you to know how much I'm enjoying it." I thought about that, and about Jai's smile. I knew then. That's the way the rest of my life would need to be lived."
- This is such a beautiful way to approach life. Enjoy every minute of it, live it to the fullest, and love the people around you. As Dr. Pausch would say, "there's no other way to play it."

I was truly inspired and moved by "The Last Lecture" and I think everyone could benefit from reading this book. People who know me may be surprised by this post as I rarely show this side of myself. Randy Pausch was a great educator, a great husband and father, and beyond all else a great human being. I only wish I could have had the opportunity to shake his hand before he left this world.

Sadly, Dr. Randy Pausch lost his battle to pancreatic cancer on July 25th, 2008, but his legacy will indeed live on.

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