Friday, July 4, 2008

The Strength of the Everyman

You know, I read something the other day. Its one of the few books I've finished at a single sitting. Its by Randy Pauch, called 'The Last Lecture'. Now most Last Lectures are held when professors or lecturers leave a university or retire from teaching. This one is something different. 

Randy has 3 children, 2 boys and a girl, and an awesome wife. He's a full Professor at Carnegie Mellon University, teaching Virtual Reality based courses. You'd think he hit the life jackpot. He has Pancreatic cancer. And its terminal. Doctors have given him five months. 3 kids. Life can be cruel sometimes. 

After all the crying and getting to terms with whats happening : you can never fully understand why, but you can, eventually, accept that it has happened, and deal with it. In my case, I had a relatively easy to cure type of Cancer. I lucked out on the life stakes. Randy (and all the people who go unrecognized but fight the same battles in some form or the other every day) didn't. 

There are a few people who have the fortune/misfortune of knowing exactly when they're going to die. Fortune or misfortune? I know where I stand. I'd rather die hit by a bus than sit a hospital bed waiting, watching the clock tick your life away. I've had that unpleasant experience (at least at the start of my treatment, when the prognosis was grim, later it got a whole lot better) and it really, really sucks. Its like being on death row but in a very comfortable prison. 

Anyway, reading his book made me realize what true strength is. Some of my friends tell me : Oh no, I don't know how you were able to do it. I wouldn't have been able to take it.

You're WRONG.

All of you. You're all wrong. Randy's strength, it's there in all of us. It's the Strength of the Everyman. Some of us are called upon to use it. Some aren't, and because they aren't, they think they don't have it. They do. Everyone does. 

Randy actually has the courage to compose a book and do a Last Lecture, his legacy to his children. He is trying to spend all the time he can with them before the end. I've heard many quotes about why people die so early, why life was so cruel to them. The one I liked best was:

God loved him so much he took him for his own. 

So Randy, instead of wasting away the precious last moments of his life in a bed, is filming himself with his children, creating a legacy that will assuage the children and their mother in their massive grief once the inevitable happens. They can say : 'My dad did this! He was a Professor! He was a brilliant man! I'm so proud of him.'

Randy Pauch is a slight man, but his is a deeper strength, much, much more than the superficial strength of muscle and sinew. It is a reserve that is called upon when we need it the most. And reading his book, and watching him on YouTube, I was struck by how he thought about the effect of his death on everybody else, when, in a few months, he would not be there to see his sons and daughters grow, live the joys of a parent and become a grandparent. All this was denied to him. Yet, his only thought was for others. He accepted his fate, and worked to make sure that he would still have lingering impact when he was gone.

We worry and worry about marks, the right college, the right hairstyle, being cool. Its only when you face up to the much larger matters of life that you realize how petty all those matters are. Some of us are lucky enough to endure an experience that opens their eyes to this truth. It is because I believed in the Strength of the Everyman that I made it through that ordeal. It is because of the Strength of the Everyman that Randy Pauch can roll with the punch. Its because of the Strength of the Everyman that you find people ravaged by disease, hunger and age still able to smile, to appreciate life as a gift. 

Hundreds of millions of people live a life of such abject poverty that they have a square meal every two or three days. Yet they endure. They bear children. They have a dream for their children, that they live a life much better than their own, and so, in a hope of a better future, if not for themselves, then at least for their sons and daughters, they linger on. This is the Strength of the Everyman. 

All of us have it. I'm not special at all. I have no superpowers. I'm not especially tall or short, not handsome or ugly (opinions differ on that :P), I'm average at studies. I'm good at some sports, ok at others and positively HORRIBLE (8-0 guys!) at some. I've had a little more than my fair share of bad luck in life. I've missed out on one of life's greatest gifts, something a lot of people take for granted. Then He decided to test me some more. I'm still here, and I'm looking forward to a great future. I'm a living example of the Strength of the Everyman. 

Look within yourself, and believe. I did, and I won. 


Janhavi Singh said...

Dear Shreyass,
I came across this blog entry of yours and I must say,hats off to you.Honestly speaking,I don't know why I'm writing to you since we have never actually spoken before.But reading this post of yours,made me realise so much.I have read this book and it had an impact on me which has lasted.But looking at it from your point of view,has changed my outlook towards it completely.
I realised the deeper meaning that lies within.How every moment of life is to be treasured and valued.How we all have so much to thank God for.Instead of mopping around, complaining about insignificant things when we have so much to be grateful for.
It does make all the difference in world.
Thank you,
Take care and keep the faith.

p.s-have you read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho?if not,I suggest that you do.

Shreyas said...

I have and I love it, it has such a simple philosophy at its core.