Chapter 13 Summary

The Man in the Convertible

One morning after the fatal diagnosis, Pausch receives an e-mail from Carnegie Mellon’s vice president for advancement, Robbee Kosak, in which she tells him a story.

The night before, she was driving home from work behind a man in a convertible. He had the top down and the windows lowered because it was a beautiful, warm, spring evening. The man’s arm was hanging out the window and he was tapping on the door in time to music on his radio. The wind was blowing through his hair as he bobbed his head to the beat.

Kosak pulled up next to the man and could see a slight smile on his face, as if he were content with his world and his own thoughts. It seemed to her that this was a perfect example of a man appreciating his life and his surroundings on this day and at this moment. When the convertible eventually turned a corner, she realized the man was someone she knew—Randy Pausch.

Her e-mail says she was struck by the sight. She knew about his grim cancer diagnosis and tried to reconcile that with the contentment she saw on his face. She was moved by the fact that, in this private moment, he was obviously in good spirits and content with his world. She tells him he will never know how much she was moved by that little glimpse of his life. It reminded her what life is supposed to be.

Pausch reads the message from Kosak several times, in a kind of feedback loop. It has not been easy to stay so positive through difficult times and harsh cancer treatments. In the midst of a medical crisis, it is often difficult to accurately gauge one’s emotional health; and Pausch often wonders if part of him is acting when he is around people—forcing himself to maintain a strong, positive demeanor. This is something many cancer patients often do, and he asks himself if he has been doing that.

His colleague observed him in an unguarded moment and presumably saw him as he really is, or at least how he was that evening. That simple e-mail, only a paragraph long, has great meaning for Pausch. His colleague offered him a kind of window into himself, and he likes what he sees. He is still fully engaged in life and he is still aware that life is good. He is living how he wants to live.