The Last Lecture was one of the books my dad read and had hung onto. I put it on my bookshelf figuring I’d get around to it eventually. I’ve been thinking of my dad James Niermeyer a lot lately because of Father’s Day and the time I’ve spent sorting through boxes of photos and memorabilia of his that I brought to our place after he passed away. Another thing that’s brought my dad to mind is that I’ve been praying for a couple different families whose fathers recently passed away leaving their wives and young children behind.
I know why my dad enjoyed this book: it’s about reaching your childhood dreams, making a difference in people’s lives, and leaving your mark on your family, friends, and colleagues. Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and he did everything he could to really live the months he had left with his family and friends. One of the things he worked on during his illness was a last lecture with tons of pictures and some of the main themes in his life and work. He included the highlights and wisdom he would have shared with his children when they got a little older.
It’s a fun look at how imagination and determination, a strong work ethic, and persistence can really pay off. The stories and anecdotes he shares are amusing. The Last Lecture definitely has the feel of a motivational speech, though with more personal details and universal values incorporated. Here's a quick 10-minute reprise of The Last Lecture which he appeared on Oprah to give:
There are a few things to note that are vastly different from Randy Pausch’s life and my dad’s: not only was my father not a computer science guru, but he barely knew how to use a PC. Electronics were not his thing at all. My dad was the youngest (by 15 years) with three older brothers, so his childhood was a direct contrast in many ways to that of Pausch’s. Sports and physical strength, then later on success in business were emphasized more than imagination and ingenuity the likes of which would land him working at Walt Disney as an Imagineer.
Some of the clichés he uses remind me of those my dad would always say. In reading The Last Lecture, I wondered what my dad’s main messages from his life would have been. What would he have included if he gave one last talk before he passed away?
I’m not sure of everything my father would have thought most important to share, but I know that faith would definitely have played a bigger role in his talk than it did in Pausch’s. I am positive he would have told some of the hilarious stories about he and his brothers getting into trouble over the years. He would probably have mentioned how much he looked up to each of them.
I’m not sure of all of the messages he would have included for his three daughters, though. I guess one of the biggest questions I have is: what would my dad’s talk have included after he’d retired from being one of the top executives at a major corporation, when he had long since lost his football player physique, and when he was faced with the certitude of an early death? I know from our many talks and visits in the last few years of his life that he saw many things differently from the way he once did.
It also makes me wonder what my “last lecture” would include, what main themes and messages from my life I’d insist on having in it. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why I felt this was the right time to read this book: I’d like to sit down sooner than later and figure out what’s most important and live in a way that’s evident in my relationships, work, how I spend my time and money.
For me, discerning God’s will, carrying it out, glorifying Him, and bringing others closer to Him are what I want and try to build my life around. One of the main prayers I have prayed over the years, I was inspired to write a while back: “Lord, please plant Your will in my heart and make it my deepest desire and most fervent longing,” along with: You, Lord, are ALL I have and You give me ALL I need. My future is in Your Hands. Lord, I pray for Your Will.
Since we don’t always know when we’ll give our “last lecture,” we’re best off living today in a way that would embody the legacy we hope to leave for our loved ones and the generations to come.
This post is linked to the July 2013 edition of New Evangelists Monthly.