I just finished The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. The book, published in 2008, is a sort of accompaniment to Pausch's last lecture at Carnegie Mellon, where he was a human-computer interaction, design, and computer science professor. I remember watching the lecture a few years back and being touched, and wanted to go through the book since I've been interested in memoirs lately.
Pausch was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer a month before giving the lecture and writing this book. He talks about childhood dreams, lessons he's learned, stories from his life, and things he's learned from teaching. The book is really moving. It's evident that Pausch has a sincere love and appreciation towards his life. He's acutely aware of what his death means, but is able to maintain a deep sense of optimism. I found that incredibly admirable.
I also found the book difficult to get through because of the various parallels I found between his life and mine. Pausch's oldest son was five years old when he passed away, which was the same age I was when my father passed away. The difference, it seems to me, is that Pausch had the mental and physical capacity to prepare for his death in a way that was unimaginable for my family. He had financial security, a strong support network, and an abundance of resources at his fingertips. He could hire someone to help him write a book about his life. He could spend money to swim with dolphins with his son and go to Disney World. He could spend time crafting and curating the image of himself that he wanted to leave with his children. Dying young is always a tragedy, but of all tragedies, his was the fairytale. He said all of his goodbyes, witnessed the glory surrounding his own life, and left his mark on the world.
His message about achieving dreams, gratitude, and making the most of life are universally relevant, but by the end of the book, I felt resentful. The things he left his kids with - stories, security, entire pieces of himself - were things that I would not ever get. They were things that my father couldn't prepare for, and for that, the book wounded me.
At one point, Pausch leaves a specific message for his kids - that he wants them to pursue their own interests, and that he would never want them to feel obligated to become something because that's what they thought he wanted for them. Those were words that I needed to hear and to fully believe. I cried when I got there because I didn’t know how much I had wanted to hear those words in a different voice until they hit me.
This book drips with privilege, but it is a genuine celebration of life. It is a love letter to his family, Disney, academia, and the opportunity to say goodbye. It is a complete collection of everything I wish I had received from my own father, and for that reason, I cannot love it.