“If you knew you were dying, what would you do?” I find this a question to be one that dives deep down our psyche and saves the real person drowning within us.
One can get lost in the eddies of the mundane chores of every day. In the laughs that intersperse quietly during lunch-time banter. In the swift journeys between rest and “no-rest”. One can get lost, it is a usual sort of excursion. It is the finding of oneself that is a journey worth acknowledging. That is what Randy Pausch‘s book, The Last Lecture, does to you. It urges you to find yourself, because maybe he didn’t have time, but you do.
While this is a hugely famous incident, I’d recount it to set the tone of this so-called “book review”. Ironically, the word “review” is just apt here. It makes you re-view your life. Randy Pausch was a professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. He died of pancreatic cancer in 2008. When R.P. was diagnosed with cancer, he resolved to fight and survive. Fight and survive, he did; though only for a brief time. He won the fight, only to lose the battle that the army of tumors waged on him. When R.P. knew he had limited time with his family—which he could see shortening slowly—he decided to live a happy life in all his capacity. When Carnegie Mellon asked him to deliver a “last lecture”, he agreed. However, it took him some persuasion with his wife, Jai. She relented seeing how important it was for him to document his life and recount it even for just one hour. And R.P. went on to give The Last Lecture which, ironically, was the last lecture of his life. I haven’t seen the lecture, but I’ve read the book. Twice.
For the purpose of a book review, I’d comment on the writing and say that it has been written straight from the heart. Understandably, so. And that is why, it hits home very easily. In the book, R.P. has tried to recapitulate his life and given the state he was in, it is NOT surprising how honest and effortless it is. R.P. has shared some really basic and “clichéd” learnings of his life which make you think that you do know all of it but you tend to forget it. He’s touched upon parents, teachers, academics, dreams, love and parenting. All of it comes straight from the gut.
And yes, for all the ladies out there, here’s what the dying man left behind as advice for his 18 month old daughter:
Personally, I love two instances he narrated. One about Coach Graham and how he taught R.P. teamwork, hardwork, and the importance of having a real “teacher” in life. Coach Graham was a model teacher, unlike the ones found today. R.P. says he is disappointed that parents these days aren’t strict enough on their children and they’re ready to move to court as soon as a teacher is strict with their children. Honestly, I think it is shameful that we have come to such a state. A good teacher is a blessing. And blessings don’t need to always be soft; they come harsh too; that is when we really learn. I absolutely love the “head fake” he has mentioned that Coach Graham taught him.
The second story that I loved was his love story with his wife, Jai. It was endearing to see how supportive and strong she has been through all of it. The fact that their love story is the spine of the book is so evident. If it wasn’t for her support, he’d never have been able to give it all that he did. What makes their love story so happily sad is the faith she shows in him right through and stands strong for their 3 children. In the end, when the “lecture” gets over and Jai hugs R.P., she whispers in his ear, “Please don’t die.” That is when reality strikes you that this man, who has just told us such a beautiful story, is really dying and he won’t be around his family anymore. Those 3 words said by Jai made me cry. Real tears. You can feel her pain when she says it. Their love story made me cry.
And that is why The Last Lecture makes for a lovely read—because it is real. All of it. The understanding, faith, dreams, losing, winning, yearning, familial bonds, hope, and love. You can’t make those emotions up on a death bed.
Here’s my favourite quote from the book:
“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”
― Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture
There is no reason why I should ask you to read The Last Lecture, but there is also no reason why you shouldn’t.