“And so I lectured…”

I have been keeping this post bottled inside because there has been a lot of turmoil around me. People I love and care for have been facing tough times and there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING I can do to help. That frustrates me to no end. Why, with all the amazing abilities the Powers-That-Be have given me, why can’t I sometimes help the people I love the most? I just don’t understand. Sometimes I wonder if it is a blessing or a curse to have the gifts I have.

And it seems that the heavy hearts are a dime a dozen… A few weeks ago, while I was on the bus, I started reading a story about a professor who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Dr. Randy Pausch (a computer sciences professor at Carnegie Mellon University). Dr. Pausch’s “Last Lecture” is, in summary, his response to the question “if you only could give ONE last lecture before you died, what would it be?”

In the lecture, he talks about his childhood dreams, about enabling the dreams of others, and what lets you achieve your dreams. The lecture is in itself, very fun and amusing (as he is a computer science, so all of you Mac geeks will love it!). But the part that really got me (and still keeps me welling tears and with a lump in my throat) was the inspiration behind the book and the lecture itself. Apparently, he wanted his kids to see him in his element, working as a professor and delivering a lecture. Hence the title of my post “… and so I lectured“.

A lot of professors give talks titled “The Last Lecture.” Professors are asked to consider their demise and to ruminate on what matters most to them. And while they speak, audiences can’t help but mull the same question: What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance? If we were to vanish tomorrow, what would we want as our legacy?

When Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, 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—“Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”—wasn’t about dying. It was about the importance of 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.

In this book, Randy Pausch has combined the humor, inspiration and intelligence that made his lecture such a phenomenon and given it an indelible form. It is a book that will be shared for generations to come.[From The Last Lecture's website]

I can’t help it but grieve because I have lost people I have loved a lot to cancer.
I can’t stop the tears because I have people (one of my aunts and one of my blogosphere friends) who are currently fighting this disease.
I can’t stop thinking about all those other people whose stories haven’t been told and who have lost their lives not only to cancer but to other diseases.
And I can’t help but think about professors who were denied the chance to deliver one last lecture.

I had the pleasure of reading some of the work of Dr. Alex Farrell (a professor who recently passed away) as part of my PhD training. This was perhaps one of the best articles I’ve read in years:

Farrell, A.E., S. VanDeveer, and J. Jäger (2001) Environmental Assessment: Four Under-Appreciated Elements of Design. Global Environmental Change. 11(4): 311-333.

I am sure he inspired many of his students to excel because I have the privilege of knowing one of his former students. I wish that I had seen at the very least, one of his lectures. It would have been a great honor.

Which brings me to closing this post.

I admire those who are currently fighting cancer, and I admire their partners and families for sticking together. I am proud of calling them my friends and I wish there was something I could do to help although I know for certain there’s nothing I can do.

I admire those who struggle with their day to day lives and still keep going no matter what, even when depression hits hard.

I admire those who are fighting to overcome the cards they were dealt and have emerged triumphant.

I admire those who have left a legacy of students who will then go on to become great professors, artists, engineers, singers, computer geeks, counselors and many other professionals.

And at some point, I aspire to be like all of you…

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Comments (4)

MelMay 13th, 2008 at 1:42 pm

This was a great post. I think that having time to prepare for death always makes one think about it differently. My grandmother recently passed away, and it was so different than other deaths I’ve experienced, since we’d been preparing for it for months.

talkingtoairMay 13th, 2008 at 4:27 pm

Drinks and dinner might be something you could do for us…..

Stephen ReesMay 13th, 2008 at 7:39 pm

There is of course the prayer they teach at at Alcoholics Anonymous. There are things in life we have to accept as beyond our power to change. (No, I am an atheist and not an alcoholic. But is is still true.)

We also need to recognise that looking after ourselves is not the same as “being selfish”. Sometimes the best thing you can do is make sure you stay happy and healthy – and not beat yourself up because sometimes you cannot help the people you love the most. And one of the hardest lessons to learn is the ability to let people go.

questions, koansSeptember 3rd, 2010 at 9:36 pm

[...] is a good thing. i’m going to take the liberty of using one of raul’s posts. he asked, “why can’t i sometimes help the people i love the most?”  (by the way – read it. it’s quite [...]

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