Tigger has died

Published 6:32 pm Wednesday, July 30, 2008

I never met him. I never knew he existed until last year. I only knew him because he dared to give a riveting speech on life — he was losing his dramatically. I have written about him and his influence on me personally and for millions around the world. He was just a professor, a computer programmer, a father of three, a husband and a man dying with cancer. He was Randy Pausch, the “Last Lecture” guy.

In a small window of months, I became aware, impressed, and totally smitten with this man. He was such a great guy, even if you take away his dying circumstances, he would have been someone you wanted to hear speak. Funny, poignant, wise, and simply wrapped up in a no frills package was Randy, but the overwhelming outreach of his life lessons has hit the world with as much impact as the dinosaur crater.

Are you one of the few who has not heard of him? Have you failed to hear the “Last Lecture” speech or read the book? I have already purchased two and am on my third. (I give them out.)

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If you are looking for spirituality, you won’t find it in this particular inspirational story. It’s all about dreams, family, and practical life tips that are so simple they remind us how complicated we have made our lives.

For those who do not know, in September last year, this computer science professor gave a speech to his students at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh titled “Really achieving your childhood dreams.” The set up is an annual event where the speaker is to pretend this is his “last lecture” and he is to impart all his knowledge. The irony is for Randy, he had just been given the death sentence of pancreatic cancer with a life toll of three to six months.

What a kicker! Can you imagine yourself, and I know we all have, if we got such a bad diagnosis. We all fear the C word. Fear it especially if we have not made smart choices in our life.

A healthy lifestyle did not help Randy who exercised, ate right, didn’t drink or smoke, but still died with the disease. Cancer is not prejudice.

Pancreatic cancer is one you don’t want — like we have choices of which poison will get us! Little progress has been made on pancreatic cancer research and if Randy’s death will put the spotlight on this deadly cancer then another good thing came out of bad. It’s the fourth leading cause of cancer fatalities and 75 percent of those diagnosed die within the first year.

Dirty Dancing star Patrick Swayze is battling this cancer hence the sadness when it was announced. Luciano Pavorati died from pancreatic cancer the same month this “Last Lecture” speech was made.

We all have periods of our lives where we are cancer watchers. Family, friends, even celebs become the medical sport that we hate to participate in but we do. We watch them. We feel badly, and we watch them. Waiting. Waiting and hoping that if we have to go through the same terrible deed, that we can learn something from them.

Robin Roberts, my hero, was diagnosed with breast cancer last year. I watched. I grieved. I learned. Because of her bravery and honesty, I was able to experience fighting cancer because she allowed us a window into her fight. Fear of the unknown is far worse than many realities. It helps us and takes away some of the mystique of cancer.

And then there is the romantic death endings we all imagine. It’s in the movies. “Love Story,” “Wuthering Heights,” “Romeo and Juliet” — but in life we don’t usually get those endings. I can speak from experience. I got the cold clinical facts about my husband’s fatal injuries in a dark room in the hospital by a man I never met. Nothing beautiful or romantic, just surreal.

This man was able to make his dreams come true before he died. He was able (in his words), to sew some nets for his family which were about to be pushed off a cliff. He was able to put his house in order.

There are those who want to know and those who would rather be taken out quick. The problem is, we still do not have that luxury of choice.

I want to think that if I were in Randy’s place that I would go out with class, wonder and awe as he did.

But how did this phenomenon begin? A Wall Street Journal columnist, Jeff Zaslow heard about the forthcoming speech, drove 300 miles and wrote about it. He said about the moment, “It was like watching Babe Ruth hit his last home run, or Michael Jordan hitting his jump shot at the end of the NBA finals. It was electric in that room.”

The columnist put together a five minute highlight video on the paper’s website and the snowball was cast. YouTube had it soon after and the video took off. Good Morning America picked up on the hot video and had Randy on their show. Before you know it, he has news specials, interviews, and is on Oprah. An overnight superstar! One that changed lives for the good!

On March 13, Randy appeared before a congressional subcommittee on behalf of Pancreatic Action Network (Pancan). He used his time wisely.

Just as he said, “We don’t beat the Grim Reaper by living longer. We beat the Reaper by living well.”

I imagine all around the world there are great moments, “Hollywood” moments, worthy of movie scenes and great soundtrack music playing in the back ground. But rarely, do we get to see one in action. This speech is worthy of your look. Its not earth shattering, it won’t make you change your philosophy of life, or make you change religions. It will just make you appreciate living. It will warm your heart. It will make us all count our blessings and then try to improve on what we already have. It is a “moment.”

Nothing magical about Randy Pausch. He taught virtual technology using video games and amusement park rides. Yet as a dying man he taught us all how to live.

He put people into two categories: Tigger or Eyeore.

Tigger says there is only one Tigger and if that were so, we just lost the only one. Thankfully, I know from experience that I am a Tigger too.

I will leave you with a few quotes from Randy, enjoy:

If there’s anything I want to do so badly, I should have already done it.

We can’t change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.

Be willing to apologize. Proper apologies have three parts: What I did was wrong. I’m sorry that I hurt you. How do I make it better? It’s the third part that people tend to forget.

Apologize when you screw up and focus on other people, not on yourself.

Tell The Truth. All the time.

Show gratitude. Gratitude is a simple but powerful thing.

Find the best in everybody

Wait long enough, and people will surprise and impress you.

If you want to achieve your dreams, you better learn to work and play well with others.

Live with integrity.

I never found anger a way to make things better.

When you are doing something badly and no one’s bothering to tell you anymore, that’s a very bad place to be. Your critics are the ones still telling you they love you and care.

Don’t complain, just work harder.

Never underestimate the importance of having fun. I’m dying and I’m having fun. And I’m going to keep having fun every day, because there’s no other way to play it.

Never lose the child-like wonder. It’s just too important. It’s what drives us.

Help others.

Better to fail spectacularly than do something mediocre.

I’ve never understood pity and self-pity as an emotion. We have a finite amount of time. Whether short or long, it doesn’t matter. Life is to be lived.

To be cliché, death is a part of life and it’s going to happen to all of us. I have the blessing of getting a little bit of advance notice and I am able to optimize my use of time down the home stretch.

God bless you Randy and thanks for letting us have a moment.