Tammy Marshall, "Novel Thoughts"

The introduction to “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch, with Jeffrey Zaslow, begins with these two sentences: “I have an engineering problem. While for the most part I’m in terrific physical shape, I have ten tumors in my liver and I have only a few months left to live.”

Wow. Just like a swift slap in the face, that opening certainly gets a reader’s attention. Those lines kind of took my breath away, and the entire book left me a bit breathless, too.

I’ve owned this book for many years, but I kept avoiding reading it because I thought it would be a sad read. It is, to a certain extent, but mostly it isn’t sad at all. It’s about really living your life, and that is advice everyone needs to hear over and over because we all get caught up in things that suck the life out of us instead of doing the things that have value to us.

I decided to finally read it because of its title. I’m leaving teaching after 30 years to focus on my writing, but before the school year ends, I’d like to leave my students with a meaningful last lecture about the things that matter most to me.

His intent behind the book and the video was to leave an important part of himself behind for his own children because they were so young when he died, but the lessons he shared in his last lecture at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh on Sept. 18, 2007, are lessons everyone needs to hear.

Overall, he wanted his children and his listeners to really go after their childhood dreams.

After reading this book, I found that Pausch and I have similar philosophies about life and about what matters. Pausch and I both made lists of goals when we were young. He achieved his, sometimes in roundabout ways, and even though he only lived 47 years, he packed a lot of life into those years.

I’ve achieved many of mine, too, but the biggest goal I’ve always had is to be a full-time writer, so I’m finally about to do that. Life is too short to keep putting off the things that matter to us the most.

Pausch and I share a love of dictionaries and encyclopedias, we both know how important the fundamentals are to really understanding a subject (his was computer science and mine is language), we both think that fashion is a silly waste of time and money, and we both understand the value of failures and setbacks.

His favorite thing to tell others was the following: “Brick walls are there for a reason. They give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”

He scaled a lot of brick walls in his quests to achieve things. One of those walls almost kept him out of Carnegie Mellon, but with perseverance, he scaled it and got in.

I agree very much with him about those walls, and I hope that his three children, who are now teenagers and older, fight their way over the walls they encounter on their journeys in life. I hope my students will do the same.

While Pausch has been gone almost 13 years, his legacy lives on through this book and through the video of his last lecture that is still available on YouTube. Read the book. Watch the video. Do both. Break down some brick walls and achieve your childhood dreams. It’s never too late until it’s too late.

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Contact Marshall at tamreader@gmail.com.

Next month’s reading selection is “Atonement” by Ian McEwan.

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