A Deeper Look Into The Human Life Cycle
Play the Hand You’re Dealt, and Make It Count
I was given the “Last Lecture” this year as a gift and its reading inspired me to reflect on life’s journey.
The book, written by Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University stricken with pancreatic cancer in the prime of his life, has a clear and resounding message.
Pausch had the choice of withdrawing from life, allowing the cancer to consume him, slipping into depression and ending life’s journey sad and alone. But he chose another path, one of optimism and a determination to live to the fullest each day left to him.
During this very personal journey, he imparted his thoughts and his wisdom to college students in his “Last Lecture.” In that talk about living — and the subsequent book — I’m sure he changed the outlook that thousands now have on their own futures.
There are many milestones and celebrations during our lifetime. At birth, a family comes together to celebrate your delivery into this living world. After your early years you gradually branch out to socialize with your peers. Then, in your teens you begin the separation process.
Somewhere along the line it becomes more fun and meaningful to spend time with friends than your family. High school friendships you feel will last a lifetime are formed. And suddenly you are on the threshold of your own individual life journey.
For some, this leads to the search for a life mate and then one of the biggest gatherings of one’s life — the wedding, when separate families and many friends join to celebrate the union of two.
I’ve noted that when the first of a tight peer group gets married, members of that group over the next few years tend to experience a series of marriages and associated group celebrations. Then comes a series of baby showers. In a sense, the life cycle begins to repeat itself as you live your childhood again through the eyes of your child, while at the same time holding on to your friendships through tailgating at football games, playing sports, taking part in book clubs and attending annual celebrations.
Then again, it is a series of weddings, births, annual celebrations — all lived through the lives of your children and their children.
Somewhere along this path another separation begins. Your children develop their own traditions and you struggle with the decision over whether to be part of that or deal with the strain and awkwardness of attempting to create that “Norman Rockwell moment” for yourself at the expense of your children’s happiness and opportunity to create their own.
About the age of 55, you begin to notice the obituary pages of the paper, finding names you know and ages that are younger than yours. Not too long thereafter, a new series of gatherings begins — funerals. They start most often with the passing of a relative, then one parent, and another. Finally begins the long series of your distant and close friends passing away.
The years go along, passing more and more quickly. Those gatherings that used to be “work” become so much more important and meaningful. Things once thought to be so important no longer are. People you thought you would be bonded to forever are long gone and your peer group is counting down one by one.
Then, it is time to depart this place we call life and you are alone once again, the focal point of the last gathering — your funeral, when remaining friends and family come together to celebrate your life.
Pausch, who died at the age of 47, leaves us with this message: “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.” Live your life to the fullest and cherish each day for what it brings. All you have is today and those you love and who love you.
During these challenging times in our world and nation, we should embrace his candid assessments. We should take stock of where we are in our lives and what we still want to do with them. But not just that. We should also gather collectively to get our world back on track.
It is true that we cannot change yesterday or control tomorrow. But we can do something today to enrich our own lives and the lives of those around us. And, as part of our legacy, we can do something to make this a better world to live in.