Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Death, that's all you got?? I scoff at your cowl!

How do we deal with the tender horror, the awful truth of our approaching departure? We're all dying. It is the inevitable end to the achingly beautiful adventure we are born into.

There are a million tactics which folks choose. Some seek to deny that they are ever leaving. Some spend their entire lives in fear of that final day. Most find a middle ground between the extremes, doing the best they can even as, deep inside, they acknowledge the temporary nature of the experience. We're only visiting.

Randy Pausch, the Carnegie-Mellon professor who was diagnosed with terminal cancer shortly before he gave a lecture in a series which was supposed to be an imagined "Last Lecture", what the featured speaker opines as the most-important message to pass along to those in the audience, is an amazing resource when one considers this topic.

This morning, I was guided to watch a series of videos, some of interviews he did with Diane Sawyer--meeting her is on my personal bucket list--and some snippets from the Last Lecture itself, an event which became a Youtube video which has been viewed millions of times.

What sticks after all that video viewing is this: the man was insanely stubborn. His persistence in staying with a lifelong commitment to having fun teaches me that I'll be okay. I'm only half as stubborn as was Randy Pausch when it comes to having fun.

He said this:
"Don't tell people how to live their lives. Just tell them stories, and they'll figure out how the stories apply to them."

...and this, specific to his addiction, his marvelous addiction:
"I don't know how to not have fun. I'm dying and I'm having fun. I'm going to keep having fun every day I have left."

And, as powerful a message in a sentence as he ever gave, he said this:
"I've never known a situation which anger made better."

Randy Pausch died two years and three days ago, on July 25, 2008.

That's not the end, of course. I have to decide what to do with the inspiration which Mr Pausch delivered to me this morning, more than two years after he died.

Today, I will have fun. This is not an intention. This is a freakin' guarantee. I only used "freakin'" as a polite gesture. That's not the word I would use in adult conversation.

Today, I will work intensely and with full energy and a big-ass smile on my face to alert more and more people to the amazing opportunity they have just in front of them.

"Just in front" means right now, not a month or a year from now or "when I get the the promotion" or "once the kids are grown" or "when we can make time for it" or any other excuse we are using to postpone our joy.

See, that's the magic of knowing we are dying. It's the sweetness of life today balanced by the sadness of the end which is coming. It is that balance which works best for me. I need the slightest hint of salt to perfect the ideal chocolate taste. The knowing can impart a certain determination to move now, not when the circumstances line up exactly as our fearful little selves insist they must. We have all day, but we don't have forever.

Odds are very high that today is not my last dying day. I'm confident that I am not, today, already in the 37-day countdown which my buddy Patti Digh has used to frame her work in the world. But what if I were? Am I doing anything today which I would not do were I to learn that I will die in two weeks? In five days? Today?


Today, I will spend every creative spark born in me to help people learn of my wife's mission in life. Why? In the small, human sense, in order to sell books. In the broader, what's-in-it-for-all-of-us sense, I do this work because it will help people. Lots of people. It will help people in ways that Julia and I have never considered. It already has, and it is not born, officially, until next week.

That's what I will do today. If I see tomorrow, that's what I will do then, as well. That's far enough to project for right now.

What will you do today? Why will you do those things? Are they what you would be doing if you knew your remaining time was finite and the end was approaching?

I want, more than anything, to feel at the end that it has all been worth it. That's all. If the end is today, I'm good to go.


Karen Swim said...

Rick, it is humbling and awe inspiring when we face a day and realize that we have yet another moment (for they are all series of moments) entrusted to us, to live and to live life fully. It is a shame to squander that precious gift not fully realizing the joy that is ours to embrace and share. Good words for a midweek, thank you Rick.

Beth said...

Well, wow.

Well said, Mr. Hamrick! Well said.

Rick Hamrick said...

Karen, I have admired your life philosophy ever since we met at JJL. I appreciate your kind words and tweeting today!

Beth--thanks! I value your opinion highly.

Lynilu said...

Oh, I like this post. I've said for a long, long time that I don't fear death. I don't look forward to it, of course, but there is no fear. To say more would be further redundant to your post! But I'll add this .... on days when I find myself in a funk, I remind myself of how good my life is. And it really is. :)

There are so many joys in life, and I don't want to miss out on any of them, if possible!

Rick Hamrick said...

Lynilu, you hit upon what I think is an ill-understood concept. Loving what we have doesn't mean giving up on what we would like to experience that we have yet to.

Thanks for adding to the conversation!

Olivia said...

What a great post to give perspective on death, something we could all think about and know how we feel about.

My mother deeply affected my view of death. Before she died just before her 45th birthday she told me that all she had was regrets about her life. I resolved then and there to live my life so as to NOT have regrets. This principle has guided me and influenced my values and choices greatly.

Good conversation here in the comments as well. Thank you, Rick!

Blessings and love, O

Lynilu said...

Olivia, I love what you mom said. I think to be able to say one has lived with no regrets is the best thing. What a fabulous legacy she left you, and I love that you've taken up the standard and marched forward with it!

Rick Hamrick said...

O--a journey begun in resistance to one witnessed must, finally, become one you direct. I know you are on that path right now, and I respect you deeply for it.

Lyn--You may have misread Olivia's comment. Her mom was full of regret.

Of course, we all are, to some degree, guided by (or in opposition to) our parents.

It was a bad day for me when I said something to one of my daughters and realized, minutes later, that I was saying exactly what my dad would have said. For the record, this was NOT a pleasant realization!

The problem with resisting is that the very act of resistance calls to you the element you seek to push away.

Olivia said...

Dear Rick and Lynilu,

I think that I can apply both of your comments.

I love that I live in opposition to the life my mother lead; it is also one I direct. I consciously made that choice as a reaction and it is a Beautiful Reaction! I would make it again and again and I do.

I think that my mother left me a beautiful legacy of an example of how I do not want to live my life. I want to live my life without regrets--this is inspiration. She taught me to find other ways to express my anger besides hitting (physical violence was her choice). She taught me to speak my truth (she told me what she thought but would never tell her true feelings to my father and others). She taught me that life is short by her death at such a young age--she wanted to die. Although life is indeed short, I didn't want my life to be THAT short--I wanted and want to live!

My mother was the third oldest daughter in her family line to die days before her 45th birthday. I was raised to believe that I would never see my 45th birthday also. I got INTENSIVE coaching the year before; I am now almost 53!

Thank you both, xo, O

Lynilu said...

I certainly did misread it! Sorry about that.

I came back back to share this quote I just ran across:

"So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and bow to none. When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks,the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no living thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision. When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a like a hero going home." ~Chief Tecumseh of the Shawnee tribe

Rick Hamrick said...

Yes, Lynilu, that Tecumseh was one smart dude.

I tweeted this early today after seeing it as part of a longer quote:

"Be a dynamo of irrepressible joy." --Sri Mahavatar Babaji

Put Tecumseh and Babaji together, and it's even better!