An Injured Lion Still Wants to Roar

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Jai had always been my cheerleader – when I was enthusiastic, so was she – but she was leery of this whole last-lecture idea. We had just moved from Pittsburgh to Southeastern Virginia so that after my death, Jai and the kids could be near her brother and sister-in-law. Jai felt that I ought to be spending my precious time with our kids, or unpacking our new house, rather than devoting my hours to writing the lecture and then traveling back to Pittsburgh to deliver it.

“Call me selfish,” Jai told me. “But I want all of you. Any time you’ll spend working on this lecture is wasted time, because it’s time away from the kids and from me.”

I understood where she was coming from. From the time I’d gotten sick, I had made a pledge to myself to defer to Jai and honor her wishes. I saw it as my mission to do all I could to lessen the burdens in her life brought on by my illness. That’s why I spent many of my waking hours making arrangements for my family’s future without me. Still, I couldn’t let go of my urge to give this last lecture.

Throughout my academic career, I’d given some pretty good talks. But being considered the best speaker in a computer-science department is like being known as the tallest of the Seven Dwarfs. And right then, I had the feeling that I had more in me, that if I gave it my all, I might be able to offer people something special. “Wisdom” is a strong word, but maybe that was it.

Jai still wasn’t happy about it. We eventually took the issue to Michele Reiss, the psychotherapist we’d begun seeing a few months earlier. She specializes in helping families when one member is confronting a terminal illness.

“I know Randy,” Jai told Dr. Reiss. “He’s a workaholic. I know just what he’ll be like when he starts putting the lecture together. It’ll be all-consuming.” The lecture, she argued, would be an unnecessary diversion from the overwhelming issues we were grappling with, in our lives.

Another matter upsetting Jai: To give the talk as scheduled, I would have to fly to Pittsburgh the day before, which was Jai’s 41st birthday. “This is my last birthday we’ll celebrate together,” she told me. “You’re actually going to leave me on my birthday?”

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Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow
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