I was sorting through some files and I came across a list of books. About two years ago on Facebook people were inviting their friends to “List 15 books you’ve read that will always stick with you. They should be the first 15 you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.” I did it and here is the list I posted to my profile:
1. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
2. Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
3. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
4. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
5. Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene
6. Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume
7. The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank
8. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
9. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
10. Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
11. Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck
12. The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
13. Harry Potter by JK Rowling
14. Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
15. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
It went all the way back to my childhood. So, that first one, “The Giving Tree,” was probably read to me by my mother. I’m pretty sure I read “Charlotte’s Web” on my own. What strikes me, though, is that the common theme of the two most recent (“Tuesdays with Morrie” and “The Last Lecture”) revolved around death. Both were stories about real men who were dying and how they shared their final days with others. There were tremendous lessons to be learned. I decided to take that last one off my shelf and read it again. Not your typical summer/beach fare but it was worth a second look.
On September 18, 2007, computer science professor Randy Pausch stepped in front of an audience of 400 people at Carnegie Mellon University to deliver a last lecture called “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” which sparked his book. He was battling cancer and chose this opportunity to give a final lecture that could be saved for his three young children after his death. I saw the video of it which had gone viral (as of today, there have been more than 13 million views of it on You Tube). Then I watched a television profile of him, and I also read Wall Street Journal columnist Jeff Zazlow’s coverage of Pausch. When I finally read his book it was one of those bittersweet experiences where I was touched by his lighthearted stories and I also cried. It made me wonder how I would behave if I was in a similar position. I am impressed by the grace some people exhibit as they die. Zazlow wrote that “Randy had a way of framing human experiences in his own distinctive way, mixing humor here, unexpected inspiration there, and wrapping it all in an uncommon optimism.” So while we face death with the author as we read his words, we come away inspired.
I think that we can learn a great deal from death: how people react to it; how families cope with the loss of a loved one; and how our lives can impact others even after we are gone. It is a sad event but so much positive can come from it.
The book, “The Last Lecture,” is dedicated: With thanks to my parents who allowed me to dream, and with hopes for the dreams my children will have. This sets the tone for what follows.
As a parent, I was struck his early memories of his youth and that he thought of his family as “winning the jackpot” of parents. One glowing example was that they let him paint/draw all over his bedroom to illustrate his dreams and passions. I can be rather controlling and I like having everything in its place. I’m all about order. So I can learn something about giving over some control on the décor of my son’s room and what some early encouragement might eventually help him obtain.
Pausch ran through a number of key thoughts that were worthwhile to share. Here’s a sampling:
- Never lose the childlike wonder
- Help others
- Loyalty is a two-way street
- Never give up
- Apologize when you screw up
- Brick walls (obstacles) are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something
- Be engaged, appreciate this day and this moment
I just paused to look back over the Facebook list and am struck by the thread of death in other books here. I hope I don’t have spoilers in writing here, but “The Giving Tree,” “Charlotte’s Web,” “Little Women” and “The Diary of Anne Frank,” all included main characters who died. Which leads me to ask myself, what is with my curiosity about the end of life? I’ll ponder that one for a while…
At this point, you might be wondering if I gave away all the content of “The Last Lecture.” I have not—there is plenty for you to explore on your own. I highly recommend it for those who want something real and inspiring.
Want more recommendations (and some variety)? Here is a number of other blog posts with books and movies from the summer: