Dr Randy Pausch is creating a stir on the internet. He’s a 47 year old professor at Carneggie Mellon and was diagnosed last August with pancreatic cancer. He was then given 3 to 6 months to live. Being a father of 3 children under 10, Mr Pausch must have taken the news hard. Coming from an ingeneering background he thought of how he was going to resolve this – which he obviously couldn’t- so he tried to make the best of it. So what do you do when you think you have about a hundred days left to live? You try to make it worthwhile- that’s the dignified way to go. I know a few others who would have done something completely different – like trying to have fun- but that’s not what Mr Pausch is about.
So there is this tradition at Carneggie Mellon where professors who are about to retire give their last lecture. Mr Pausch used his right to give it and it was broadly broadcast on the internet. He was at first praised for his lucidity, his courage and his dignity. He encouraged people to follow their dreams and tried to give an example of how to achieve this. The lecture was officially aimed at his students and at his children, but it became open to the rest of the world. And then – you know the saying: Man plans, God laughs. And that’s what happened. The plan backfired.
Dr Pausch looks like the healthiest person on earth. Although clinically he is dying, in the facts, he’s still there. His sudden notoriety has propulsed him on the scene- you can even have a glimpse on the internet of him doing push-ups in front of Oprah and a large audience, something he is condemned to do again and again like a bad scenario in front of the cameras. And these repetitions – plus the publication of a book called ” The last lecture ” suddenly becomes an indecent commercial for a narcissic agony. And the lash out begins, followed by the accusations of milking it to the last degree. You have here all the ingredients to create collective fury when it all started with the best intentions. It is easy to see why: Mr Pausch is a good looking guy, with the sort of funny haircut that you can suppose he wore all his life since he was 12 or 16. His beautiful wife and lovely children seem to come straight of a Disney story. He has achieved a great career and has many friends who are ready to support him. He’s trying to do the right thing, like probably he has been doing all his life. In one word: he has it all. Dying the is the catch, but if you think about it one minute, it is going to happen to all of us and we are not all making a big deal out of it. We could- after all, not all of us have the time to get prepared and ready for it. So he remains a lucky guy throughout the end.
But then the paradox begins. He is dying, right, but in this world of instant information, he doesn’t drop dead once he has finished his lecture. So people feel cheated and are demanding explanations, which he has to answer to- radios in hand and defenses all out. The poor guy gets trapped by his own snare. So now he’s out there trying to get his point through and wasting precious time, instead of laying on his living-room floor and playing with his kids.
I have no judgements to pass on this one. Mr Pausch forgot one thing- that some events such as birth, marriage and funeral are best kept private. It is in our culture. He probably tried to overcome his fears by trying to pass on what he had learned in his short life. Making a book out of it was a simple way to perpetuating the message and maybe even to assure a little income for his family once he had disappeared. It may be seen as cynical when I believe it was just desesperate. The plan was genuine but hadn’t been thought through- for one good reason: nobody will shoot an ambulance. But Mr Pausch didn’t look ill enough- and that was the paradox.
Were he dead now we’d say ” rest in peace”. I don’t mean ” piece”- and nobody else should.
That was my lecture of the day.

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