Monday, September 24, 2007

Truly Words To Live By ...

Experience is what you get when you don't get what you want.
– Dr. Randy Pausch, Carnegie Mellon University

I'm a bit behind the curve on this story. While I was flitting about, getting ready for my trip to New York, my friend Jeff published yet another of his Moving On columns for the Wall Street Journal.

I've known Jeff for 20 years. And even after all this time, I'm still struck by the ease in his writing. Jeff's gift is telling stories. As I wrote to him today, "What an amazing job you have, bringing the stories of amazing people to the wider world."

The story of Dr. Randy Pausch is an amazing story. One of the most amazing stories. I'm grateful to Jeff for bringing this story to light. Since Jeff's Sept. 21 column, Dr. Pausch has been featured on Good Morning America and my Charlie Gibson named him "Person of the Week." Not surprisingly, Dr. Pausch is now very in demand. You'll be seeing more of him in the weeks and months ahead.

Months may be all he has, if the doctors are right, though, of course, doctors are often wrong. He has pancreatic cancer. It's hard to look at him, such a young, handsome, vibrant man, and contemplate the chaos that is ravaging his body. How can such a vibrant man be in the waning weeks of his life? How can all we know about cancer not be enough to save him? What about organ donations? Surely, there must be something that can be done.

And maybe there is, some miracle. But probably not. Regardless, he appears very evenhanded about the cards he's holding.

And for that reason, his last lecture will change your life. There is no sorrow or pity. I'm angered by the unfairness of his situation, but then I watch him and he makes it all OK for the rest of us. I'd call it brave, but I don't think he's trying to be brave. I think he's just an extraordinary man with an elegant view of life.

The comparisons to Morrie Schwartz are inevitable, of course. But while Morrie's disease was cruel, his death was easier to understand. He was an older man. He had lived a full life. Dr. Pausch, though, is a man in his prime. He has three young children. He has a beautiful, brave wife who should have her husband by her side as their children grow and graduate and mark all the milestones that parents are meant to witness.

I'm inclined to call his impending death premature, but he doesn't seem to think it's premature so much as it's just the end of his life, the allotment he was granted when he was born. The clock is simply running down and overtime isn't part of this game.

I hope he knows, through the outpouring of attention he's receiving in the wake of Jeff's piece, how many thousands if not millions of lives he has touched with his lecture about life lessons. He certainly affected me.

He's achieved most of his childhood dreams. He has a family and friends who love him. And he's made a career out of pursuing his interests and inspiring his others. And maybe his words would somehow have less resonance if he were an older man. Maybe his lessons reverberate so strongly because we see ourselves in him and because his story reminds us of how much we take for granted, forgetting how quickly it can all be taken away.

I'm grateful that he took the time to create his last lesson and that he will live on in every person who embraces his philosophy and looks at life in a new way.

But he didn't say what he had to say for our benefit, nor his colleagues, nor his students.

As the professor said at the end of his last lecture, "This was for my kids."

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