"I'm Dying, and I'm Having Fun."
Randy Pausch is Correct

One of the things that intrigues me is how much I thought I knew about life which turns out not to be the complete story.  After many decades, I am finally grasping just how much of my learning evolves over time.  It is a growing process.  The older that I get, the more that I realize that essential learning never stops.  Now, each of us has a choice.  We can either continue to learn throughout life, or we can stop learning once we think we understand it all.

I have journeyed through this wondrous world called life for many decades.  In the past decade, I have danced with death twice already, and I am flirting with number three.  Those dances have forced to look back upon my journey and realize the limited time remaining for me to understand life more fully.

My life has been a strange journey indeed.  It is even stranger as I continue to put the pieces of my life together and understand it more completely.  I have used this algorithm twice in previous essays.  The algorithm is about William Turner's The Fighting Téméraire.  Watch this video, stop it at any point.  What you see is what I thought reality was at some particular time.  Now, continue watching for a while longer.  What you see in the algorithm are the changes in my Weltanschauung (worldview) over the years due to learning.  At any one moment, I thought that I saw reality.  However, what I see is not truly reality until the end of the video.  That is when life is seen clearly, even though I thought that I got it many times prior.

At the beginning of my adult life as I began college, I understood myself as left of center on social movements.  The positive influences in my development were also liberals.  While I was not the most socially active college student, there were not many in front of me, and the vast majority were well behind me.  For example, one summer I went to Ozone, TN where I helped run a work camp in the mid-South in the early 60's.  That was the first time that I experienced racism as a white college student.  Late one evening outside of Ozone could have been my first and last dance with death due to the Klan. 

During the next half century, I continued to learn and garnered more insights.  At any one of those moments during those five decades, I thought that I go it.  I really believed that I had reached a pretty good understanding of life.  If I thought that I was a liberal then, I realize now that I was further to the left than I was in the 60s. 

However, in 2008, I danced with death twice.  My first dance was due to prostate cancer and the second dance was due to a traumatic brain injury.  Fortunately, I did the dance both times and remained in control of my dance partner, death.  I'm still alive with no serious problems due to either dance.  After a couple of months of what I considered recovering from my brain injury, I went back to what I considered my normal life, which meant that I totally missed the learning experience from both dances.

Today, as I look back upon especially the second dance due to the fall, I understand how I made a mistake in reasoning.  I was in ICU in one hospital for a month and a rehab hospital for another three weeks.  In those seven weeks of hospitalization, only the last ten days do I recall anything at all.  Nonetheless, after nearly two months of very little physical activity, I was recovering well, but I was totally out of shape physically.  I knew that I had to get back into cardiovascular shape. 

Over the next several months, I spent a lot of time walking and then riding my bike around my subdivision.  However, what I missed was that before my fall, I was quite active in everything including exercising, social issues, world travel, teaching, writing, and creativity.  After the fall, I bottomed out well below what was for me normal.  However, dancing with death transformed me, but I did not realize it at that time.  I went back to what I considered normal, which was a new normal for me.  It took me a handful of years to understand my new normal. 

Over the next several years, I went on four month-long trips to Indochina, Greece/Turkey, Scotland, and Myanmar.  I continued to write and to teach.  I enjoyed life.  However, I did not see that I was functioning in my new normal until I went to Chicago and had dinner with Mike Schmitt just over a year ago.  We ordered dinner, and Mike asked me a simple question, "What's happening."  For the next hour, I told him.  I was on a roll.  Mike was quite polite.  He didn't interrupt but listened.  Finally, when I took a moment to get my breath, Mike asked his second question, "Have you ever seen Randy Pausch's Last Lecture?"  I responded that I hadn't and continued to tell him about my being wired.  Before we left the restaurant, he said that he'd email me a link to the lecture.

The following morning in my email's inbox, I found his email with the link to Pausch's Last Lecture.  For the next hour, I watched Pausch and his lecture. Man, talk about eye-opening experiences.  It was then that I understood that I was functioning at my new normal.  Pausch said, "I don't know how to not have fun.  I'm dying and I'm having fun, and I'm going to keep having fun every day I've got left."  I want to be perfectly honest with you.  That comment resonates within my very being.  Pausch's comment is not merely some intellectual truth; it is a truth that I feel in my gut.

Description: Randy Pausch and his Last Lecture

Hines Ward autographs his jersey given to Randy Pausch who said, "I'm dying and I'm having fun...."

However, the problem is that had I not done the dances and/or neither had you, we wouldn't fully get Pausch's message.  Therefore, I know that the vast majority of you won't get what either Pausch or I are saying.  In the time from now and until you do the dance, the best that I can do is to tell you what Saul Alinsky promised us all, "We must believe that it is the darkest before the dawn of a beautiful new world. We will see it when we believe it."  In the meantime, do not forget Ben Franklin's warming, "Some people die at twenty-five and aren't buried until seventy-five."

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