“If there is an elephant in the room, introduce it.” These are the words of a professor with only a few months to live, as he stood before a standing room only audience as he delivered his “last lecture.” Randy Pausch, a college professor, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He had a wife and three small children. With this fatal outlook, he decided he wanted to leave behind a message for his family that would guide them after he was gone. The message was the lecture he gave and is now a best-selling book entitled “The Last Lecture.”
The message was for his family, but the wisdom he shared was for all who would listen. The elephant in the room was his cancer. Should he share his story of cancer or just deliver this speech? He chose to talk first about the cancer, the elephant in the room. He was aware that those that were there would think of that first, regardless of what else he had to say, so he felt he must put that aside to get his real message across.
So often in life, when we have an issue that is unpleasant, we want to ignore it. Maybe it’s a tough decision with our children. Maybe if they were adults and facing family problems, we hope by ignoring the problem it will disappear. Maybe it’s a friend or maybe it’s a church issue, or even a business issue. Get it out of the way. If there is an elephant in the room, introduce it.
As the professor continued his last lecture, he spoke many other words of wisdom that need sharing. He spoke of the obstacles he had faced in life as he worked to reach his goals. He called them brick walls. Then he said, “Brick walls are there for a reason. They’re not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”
I am reminded of something my high school coach, Tom Green, often said when the game was close and victory was in doubt. “How are you when the pressure is on and the chances for victory are almost gone?” Coach’s words were about sports, but the professor’s were about life. Do we choke, or do we show how badly we want something when the brick walls of life obstruct our paths to victory?
Let me share just one more lesson the professor talked about. He had gone out for the football team, and the coach rode him hard day after day. As hard as he tried, the coach wasn’t pleased, and he never seemed to let up with his continual pushing to get him to do better. Finally, he was dismissed from the team. “Coach rode you pretty hard, didn’t he?” an assistant coach said. Randy barely mustered a reply, “Yeah.” “That’s a good thing,” the assistant answered. “When you see yourself doing something badly, and nobody’s bothering to tell you anymore, that’s a bad place to be. You may not want to hear it, but your critics are often the ones telling you they still love you, and want to make you better.” True friends will yell “Stop!” when they see someone they love driving over a cliff in life. It is called “tough love,” but it is truly real love.
Nobody will get out of this world alive, and few will ever deliver their last lecture. But if you could, what would you say? Maybe the most important lecture for those we love would be not what we say, but how we live.
George Lusby is the former Scott County judge-executive. “The Best of Crawfish and Minnows,” is available at the News-Graphic office.