Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Final Farewell

A moving article by Jeffrey Zaslow in WSJ (May 3, 2008) about how Randy Pausch, a 47-year-old college professor, came to teach his family about love, courage -- and saying goodbye.

Randy Pausch, a professor at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University, has become famous for the way in which he chose to say goodbye to his students and colleagues. His final lecture to them,  turned into a phenomenon, viewed by millions on the Internet. Dying of pancreatic cancer, he showed a love of life and an approach to death that people have found inspiring. For many of us, his lecture has become a reminder that our own futures are similarly -- if not as drastically -- brief. 

Randy was moved by comments such as the one he received from a man with serious heart problems. The man wrote to tell Randy about Krishnamurti, a spiritual leader in India who died in 1986. Krishnamurti was once asked what was the most appropriate way to say goodbye to a man who was about to die. He answered: "Tell your friend that in his death, a part of you dies and goes with him. Wherever he goes, you also go. He will not be alone." In his email to Randy, this man was reassuring: "I know you are not alone."

Randy rarely got emotional in all his hours with me. He was brave, talking about death like a scientist. In fact, until we got to discussing what should be in the book's last chapter, he never choked up.
The last chapter, we decided, would be about the last moments of his lecture -- how he felt, what he said. He thought hard about that, and then described for me how his emotions swelled as he took a breath and prepared to deliver his closing lines. It was tough, he said, "because the end of the talk had to be a distillation of how I felt about the end of my life."

In the same way, discussing the end of the book was emotional for him. I could hear his voice cracking as we spoke. Left unsaid was the fact that this part of our journey together was ending. He no longer needed to ride his bike, wearing that headset, while I sat at my computer, tapping away, his voice in my ears. Within weeks, he had no energy to exercise.

Randy is thrilled that so many people are finding his lecture beneficial, and he hopes the book also will be a meaningful legacy for him. Still, all along, he kept reminding me that he was reaching into his heart, offering his life lessons, mostly to address an audience of three. "I'm attempting to put myself in a bottle that will one day wash up on the beach for my children," he said.

And so despite all his goodbyes, he has found solace in the idea that he'll remain a presence. "Kids, more than anything else, need to know their parents love them," he said. "Their parents don't have to be alive for that to happen."

Hummingbird always feels this is a very emotional and inspiring Last Lecture.  To download the pdf version of the transcripts of the last lecture click here.