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Books and Beyond

In the book “The Last Lecture,” by Randy Pausch, c 2008, he writes about his death coming up soon from pancreatic cancer. I felt pretty close to him as I read the book. My oldest sister Janice died from pancreatic cancer in 2014.

As I was reading the first few chapters, I realized that I would be learning more about the word virtual. He uses the term a lot already in this 2008 book, a word that is everywhere these days. Pausch was a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA.

By Chapter 10 in “The Last Lecture,” I was continuing to become more in tune with Pausch. This chapter, titled “Winning Big,” is about his love for stuffed animals. His first one was a giant stuffed rabbit his father gave Pausch and his sister when they were children. He continued to collect them all his life, by winning them, not buying them. And toward the end of his life, he gives them away.

Section III in the book begins with the summer of 2006 when Pausch finds out he has pancreatic cancer. After treatments that he hopes will save his life, the doctor tells him at his quarterly checkup that he has metastasis, and he will help him have a quality of life for as long as possible. After this lengthy appointment, Pausch writes that he and his wife Jai “walked out together, into our new reality” (p. 62).

I think he would rather I refer to him as Randy.

Randy was 37 years old when he married Jai. Before that he spent a lot of time with his sister’s two children. One fun thing they did together was make pancakes in the shape of animals. He met Jai in 1998 when he gave a lecture on “virtual reality technology” at the University of North Carolina, where she was working part-time, and she would host Randy during his visit. They are drawn to each other, but because Jai has divorced, she is more cautious than Randy about thinking of marriage.

They do marry under a 100-year-old oak tree, and then go on a ride in a hot-air balloon!

In the early years of their marriage they learn to handle wisely everyday events like when she backs the minivan out of the garage and runs into the parked Volkswagen. Right away Jai makes plans for repairing the vehicles, but Randy says he doesn’t want to: “not everything needs to be fixed” (p. 87).

The next troublesome time is when Jai gives a troubled birth to their 2 lb. 15 oz. son. The new parents handle this well. Here’s what Randy writes this time: “Let’s saddle up and ride” (p. 93).

Now we’ll go to Section V: It’s About How to Live Your Life. Each of the thirty-one chapters in this section is worth reading … slowly! Chapter 41 tells us how important it still is to write thank you notes… handwritten notes. In Chapter 47 he gives us three steps for the times we need to apologize: What I did was wrong, I feel badly that I hurt you, and How do I make this better (p. 162).

I really loved Chapter 49: Get in Touch with your Crayon Box. Randy planned to give his listeners a box of crayons at one of his last lectures. He forgot to give them out, but tells us what he was going to do: ask them to hold some crayons in their fingers and “take a good long whiff” (p. 165). This takes us back to our childhood. Randy often puts a crayon in his pocket wherever he goes.

Part VI is Final Remarks. Chapter 59 is Dreams for My Children. They are Dylan, age 6, Logan age 3, and Chloe, eighteen months. I would say his saddest times are when he realizes he won’t get to see his children grow up. But he does want them to remember their father. “I’m trying to do things with them that they’ll find unforgettable … I want their recollections to be as sharp as possible” (p. 192).

This chapter has the most photos of Randy, his wife, and his three children playing. Many of us when we are older think about making a photo album for younger family members and younger friends to have when we are gone.

I started with mentioning my oldest sister. Now I want to say that recently my younger sister mailed me a box that carried stuffed animals from Colorado to me in Minnesota. And you will see the picture of them sitting in a chair close to where Howard and I spend time resting, reading, and listening to music. So in some ways I feel like Randy is here with us too. When we push a button on the red and white dog, we hear the Everly Brothers singing “All I Have to Do Is Dream.”

Your Marshall-Lyon County Library has The Last Lecture in several formats: book (Memoir), large print, audiobook, DVD, and digital. Check out other inspiring stories. Marshall Library hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Drive-up window 4-6 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, marshalllyonlibrary.org.

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