If there were one book / five pieces of music / three kinds of food you could take to a desert island, what would they be?
In the tradition of desert-island lists, comes the academics’ version: the last lecture. If there was one more talk you could deliver, what would you want to say? What would you want as your legacy?
Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon in the US, made the ‘last lecture’ concept famous beyond campuses, for deeply poignant reasons: it was, really, his last lecture. He’d recently been diagnosed with the terminal cancer that killed him just a few days ago, around 10 months after his lecture.
His subject, chosen partly through his longing to leave a legacy for his children, then aged six, three and 18 months, was ‘Really achieving your childhood dreams’. It’s over an hour long on YouTube, and very moving (he’s an excellent lecturer); out of the lecture came the book. The legacy-message is one thing but, as Pausch moves to talking about living with pancreatic cancer, and about his love for his family, and his fears and hopes and dreams, he soars. If you’re close to someone who has cancer – even a form not as scary as pancreatic cancer – it hits you right in the heart.
In a week where we’re looking at cancer and its survivors, it seems right to say that one can learn much about living from people who’re facing death.
Cancer continues to be the scary one – and the fact that it appears that up to 90 percent of cancers have environmental causes, is both alarming news (what have we been doing to ourselves?!) and cheering – so, perhaps, we can beat it.