Beyond Blue

randy pausch.jpeg
I am republishing a post I wrote around the time of Pausch’s death.

It seems like the closer one is to death, the more genuine one becomes. The more courageous one is to speak his truth, and nothing but the truth.

This was certainly the case with Randy Pausch, diagnosed with incurable pancreatic cancer in September of 2006, who died today at his home in Virginia.

A few months back, a friend sent me the video of his last lecture at Carnegie Mellon and I viewed it with the other millions of people in cyberspace. But unlike all the other lists of “10 things you need to know to be happy” I get in my inbox, his lessons stuck. I keep coming back to them, especially when I’m with my kids, pulling out my hair and begging the universe to send me a silent moment. THEN I will be happy.

This professor didn’t care about silent moments. Or a promotion to the dean of the college. Or a Porsche in the driveway. He saw beauty in the moment, even as he was dying. He celebrated his life to the end.

This man was all about joy. Finding it. Savoring it. Sharing it. Believing in it.

I guess that’s why he so impressed me. As a person struggling with chronic depression and anxiety, I have trouble getting to the joy. I stop short of the curtain, afraid to pull it up and realize that it’s been right in front of me.

Even though it has been at least four months since I saw his video, I remember very well these lessons:

1.Tell the truth.

Doing so will simplify your life. Harder in the short run, yes, but honesty leads to intimacy and life is about connection to one another, the shared experiences we have with friends and family. Now I’m not sure if the professor meant that when your wife asks you if you look fat in a pair of jeans, that you need to say yes, but I do agree with him that you absolutely have to spit out the real story when you want to tuck it into the pockets of those unflattering jeans. Because by doing so will grace your marriage, your friendships, all your relationships in the end.

2. Say sorry when you’re wrong.

Of course when you speak the truth, you divulge some less than perfect moments for which you need to apologize. And then move on. What a different world we would have if everyone who made a mistake said sorry and asked for forgiveness. No scapegoats. No excuses. Just a simple “Sorry. I did the wrong thing.”

3. Dream and dream big.

A large part of Pausch’s lecture was about pursuing your childhood dreams, and how these dreams need to be specific. For him, that was: playing in the NFL, authoring an article in the encyclopedia, winning stuffed animals, meeting Captain Kirk, being a Disney imagineer. And some of them came true. I couldn’t help but think of my own dad when he spoke about how important dreams are … even the seemingly shallow and unattainable ones. My dad wanted to be on a first-name basis with Frank Sinatra. Guess who sent a floral bouquets to his funeral? Frank and Barbara Sinatra.

4. Have fun and play more.

What a divine sense of humor this man had. His playful spirit was so charming throughout the lecture–the audience breaking into hysteria and laughter–that you almost forgot he was dying. Of all my tools to combat stress-especially the stress of dealing with manic depression–humor is by far the most fun. And just like mastering the craft of writing, I’m finding that the longer I practice laughing at life (especially at its frustrations) the better I become at it, and the more situations and conversations and complications I can place into that category named “silly.”

5. Live today fully.

This one Pausch nearly perfected. And it’s by far the most difficult for me. Because it means relinquishing some control over the future and letting things happen as they are meant to happen. It means believing in the miracle of the loaves and fishes–that there will be enough, even though it certainly doesn’t look that way. This lesson requires fretting less and trusting more. And it means recognizing the joy that is before you–tuning into it like today is the last day of your life.

God bless you, Randy. Thank you for your beautiful spirit, and your evergreen lessons.

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