An Injured Lion Still Wants to Roar
Jai heard me out, then asked the obvious question. “If you have things you want to say to the kids, or advice you want to give them, why not just put a video camera on a tripod and tape it here in the living room?”
Maybe she had me there. Or maybe not. Like that lion in the jungle, my natural habitat was still on a college campus, in front of students. “One thing I’ve learned,” I told Jai, “is that when parents tell children things, it doesn’t hurt to get some external validation. If I can get an audience to laugh and clap at the right time, maybe that would add gravitas to what I’m telling the kids.”
Jai smiled at me, her dying showman, and finally relented. She knew I’d been yearning to find ways to leave a legacy for the kids. Okay. Perhaps this lecture could be an avenue for that.
And so, with Jai’s green light, I had a challenge before me. How could I turn this academic talk into something that would resonate with our kids a decade or more up the road?
I knew for sure that I didn’t want the lecture to focus on my cancer. My medical saga was what it was, and I’d already been over it and over it. I had little interest in giving a discourse on, say, my insights into how I coped with the disease, or how it gave me new perspectives. Many people might expect the talk to be about dying. But it had to be about living.
That was the question I felt compelled to address. Maybe answering that would help me figure out what to say. I was sitting with Jai in a doctor’s waiting room at Johns Hopkins, awaiting yet another pathology report, and I was bouncing my thoughts off her.
“Cancer doesn’t make me unique,” I said. There was no arguing that. More than 37,000 Americans a year are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer alone.
I thought hard about how I defined myself: as a teacher, a computer scientist, a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a mentor to my students. Those were all roles I valued. But did any of those roles really set me apart?
Though I’ve always had a healthy sense of self, I knew this lecture needed more than just bravado. I asked myself: “What do I, alone, truly have to offer?”
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