Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Last Lecture

by Raelene Gorlinsky

This is not the post I had planned for today. But I think it is relevant for the mission of this blog, because it is about the power of words - the way they can move us and inspire us.

I had, of course, seen many mentions of The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon. He is now the "late" professor, although he was still alive when the book first came out this year. I kept meaning to buy it, but never quite did - it's a bit pricey. But I was in the bookstore today and the book was on sale. And I figured if I didn't like it, it would make a good Christmas gift for someone.

You know, people look at you oddly when you cry in public. I was waiting in a slow line at the pharmacy, so I opened the book I'd just bought and started to read. And to cry. I can't describe all the emotions in this book, although the transcendent one is the courage of the author. So I will let him tell you about the book in his own words, part of the Introduction:

I have an engineering problem.

While for the most part I'm in terrific physical shape, I have ten tumors in my liver and I have only a few months left to live.

I am a father of three young children, and married to the woman of my dreams. While I could easily feel sorry for myself, that wouldn't do them, or me, any good.

So, how to spend my very limited time?

The obvious part is being with, and taking care of, my family. While I still can, I embrace every moment with them, and do the logistical things necessary to ease their path into a life without me.

The less obvious part is how to teach my children what I would have taught them over the next twenty years. They are too young now to have those conversations. All parents want to teach their children right from wrong, what we think is important, and how to deal with the challenges life will bring. We also want them to know some stories from our own lives, often as a way to teach them how to lead theirs. My desire to do that led me to give a "last lecture" at Carnegie Mellon University.

These lectures are routinely videotaped. I knew what I was doing that day. Under the ruse of giving an academic lecture, I was trying to put myself in a bottle that would one day wash up on the beach for my children. If I were a painter, I would have painted for them. If I were a musician, I would have composed music. But I am a lecturer. So I lectured.

I lectured about the joy of life, about how much I appreciated life, even with so little of my own left. I talked about honesty, integrity, gratitude, and other things I hold dear. And I tried very hard not to be boring.

This computer science professor has an eloquence and emotional commitment that every author should admire. It would be fantastic if every fiction book (especially the romances) I read affected me as much. So, go read this book.


Ulysses said...

If you haven't seen it already, the Last Lecture video is available on YouTube:

Bearing in mind that the book is likely the more intimate experience, there is something awe-inspiring about watching the man, full of life and enthusiasm, give his lecture as a performance for the audience.

J L said...

I saw the video, too. And I saw him on Oprah.

I agree. It's amazing.

Beosig said...

I also picked up the book a while back. It was a one-evening read, and was worth every second. It was also the most I had cried over the death of someone I had never met or known. It was so surreal to read words of a man I knew was gone when he was talking about "when I'm gone."

I've put this on my shelf in my "read this one every year no matter what" section.

Natalie Hatch said...

I watched the lecture last year and cried the whole time. Such an amazing man, he inspired me to push through my doldrums and do what I really wanted to, which is to write. No one knows how long we have on Earth so we should do the best with what we have and enjoy it while we're here.

Anonymous said...

The Last Lecture reads so true it bleeds, it hurts and it inspires. It is a book and a human I won't ever forget.

I usually stay away from anything that is sad. You can't drag me into a Nicolas Sparks movie because after Message in a Bottle and the Note Book--I know it's going to be sad and I'm going to bawl my head off. I do know Nicolas Sparks is a genuis. I just prefer HEA. Sometimes though, as in the Last Lecture, the truth, though painful, is beautiful--