A cousin of mine in another North Carolina city told me some time ago about a friend of hers who felt a bit "peaked" — as we say in the South — on the tennis court one lovely spring day. The woman, an athletic and community-spirited mother in her mid-40s, decided to check in with her doctor. She was immediately hospitalized and diagnosed with an unusual and highly aggressive form of cancer.  Within two weeks of that final tennis match she was dead.    
    But not before she called her husband to her bedside to tape video messages to their children, then preschool and elementary school ages, to be played at significant points in their lives — 16th birthdays, graduations, weddings and other milestones. She, like parents everywhere, wanted to impart her life experiences and the wisdom they brought her to her children even though she knew she had precious little time to prepare her messages and would not be here to deliver them herself.
    I can only imagine what her children will think when they see their mother speaking to them with such love as they move through their lives.         
    I remembered my cousin’s friend when I first read about Randy Pausch. Pausch is the college professor who has become an Internet sensation and now a likely bestselling author with his address to students, which has played millions of times on the Internet and has now expanded into a book entitled The Last Lecture. He has talked to Oprah on TV and he has testified before Congress. Pausch, you see, has been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and does not expect to live through 2008. He says The Last Lecture is a message to his own children, now 6, 3 and 1, about the way he wants them to live their lives even though he will not be with them. He tells us in his book’s introduction that when he delivered the lecture that has found Internet immortality, he "knew what I was doing that day. I was trying to put myself in a bottle that would one day wash up on the beach for my children."
    {mosimage}The actual lecture was delivered last fall with wonderfully good humor and little self-pity to an audience at Carnegie Mellon University where Pausch taught computer science. He even demonstrated his otherwise excellent health at that moment by doing a few pushups with claps in between. At 47, he is a man of clear intelligence who obviously loves his wife and children. He is, as he says, playing the cards he was dealt thoughtfully and with grace. Pausch gives his audience, and through it his children, the kind of advice all of us probably try to teach our children both in words and in actions over the years. Condensed to just over an hour, he counsels kindness toward ourselves and toward others, truthfulness in all aspects of our lives, to find the good qualities in other people even when it is difficult, to be unafraid of taking risks because that is how we learn and grow, to laugh and enjoy the days we are given and to be as prepared as we can for whatever comes our way, including what he calls his cancer: "The elephant in the room."
    I cannot argue with his advice. It spans all ages and all cultures. I suspect the world would be a better place if all of us were able to incorporate Pausch’s wisdom into our daily living. I would expand it in only this way: If we are fortunate, we will be blessed with family — the families of our childhoods, the families we make with others, the families who come behind us and with friends from all spheres of our lives who can mean as much as our families. These relationships shape us and enrich us and are really what makes us human beings. We must remember, though, that no one — not our parents, our siblings, our spouses, our children or our oldest friends, will walk every step of our lives with us. The only person who will be with you all the way is you. It is central to our happiness and our well-being that we learn to know, to like, and to trust ourselves as we move through our lives. Pausch and his family have moved to Virginia to be closer to family as they face whatever the future holds for them.
    Surely, there are difficult moments, but his courage is remarkable, and the public reaction to him and The Last Lecture makes it clear that he has touched and soothed many aching hearts. None of us knows our fates with certainty, and while we know there is an end, we do not know when, where or how, even though some of us, like Pausch, may have reasonable suspicions. What does seem certain to me, though, is that his children, those of my cousin’s friend, and the rest of us as well are better for their having been here.
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