It is hard to read Jeffrey Zaslow and Randy Pausch’s “The Last Lecture” – based on the “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” lecture that Pausch had delivered at Carnegie Mellon University, after his pancreatic cancer had recurred and was given a terminal diagnosis thereafter – without feeling emotional or even tearing up, especially when he shifts from personal musings and reflections to address his wife, Jai, and his three children who will survive him. These are the words of a man who loved his family and friends, and who was loved in return. These are also the words of a man who still had so much to live for, who is upset that he would not be able to do so, and who is trying to overcome the bitterness of having so little time left and having to confront his mortality with the imminence of his passing.
One may not necessarily be taken by his professional (academic) journey, the life lessons he espouses, or the mild arrogance or know-it-all tone, yet in thinking about life – and learning how to live – through the lenses of death the reader is likely to be moved by the many things he accomplished since his prognosis as well as his devotion to his children, and his regret that he would not live to see them grow up. Even when he was recalling the dreams and stories of his childhood, describing his mentorship to his students and the creation of a software to empower tens of millions around the world to learn about virtual reality while having fun at the same time, and documenting the many lessons he has learnt, he always had his children in mind. In both written and audio-visual formats, he was speaking to them.
“It’s not about how to achieve your dreams, it’s about how to lead your life”, he wrote, towards the end of the book. “If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself, the dreams will come to you”.
And while they may not want their personal narratives to be on public display, in this vein, it would be interesting to hear from Jai and his children not only after they have read “The Last Lecture” and watched the aforementioned lecture, but also how Pausch’s words may or may not have influenced how they have led their lives (and juxtaposed, moreover, with how they remember their husband or father and with their personal ambitions and development). Because while entreaties about how to conduct oneself and to maximise opportunities may seem generic, it is the personal connection – of Pausch to his children, for instance and in particular – which conveys greater significance. As readers and outsiders, we are subsequently prompted to take stock of our own trajectories, evaluate and prioritise the people and things which and who important for us, and strive to make the best of the rest of our lives, no matter how much time we may have left.