The Elephant in the Room
Jai is already seated when he arrives, along with about four hundred other people—a large crowd even for the popular lecture series. Pausch is on stage, arranging his props and preparing to speak, but he makes eye contact with no one. Jai can tell he is nervous and probably does not want to make any eye contact that might make him too emotional. Pausch assumes some of the audience is there to see what a dying man has to say, and he is still deleting and rearranging slides when it is time for him to begin.
Pausch is dressed casually in what he decided was the most appropriate childhood-dream clothing he could imagine: a polo shirt with the emblem that all Walt Disney Imagineers wear. Imagineers are the artists, writers, and engineers who “create theme-park fantasies.” Pausch spent a six-month sabbatical as an Imagineer—the pinnacle of his childhood dreams. He also wears his oval “Randy” name badge, paying tribute to the man who famously said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”
Pausch begins his presentation with a few jokes and then addresses the “elephant in the room.” He has cancer and his prognosis is for three to six months of good health—news he received a month ago. He displays the image of his CT scan with red arrows pointing at his ten tumors. Everyone counts with him, and Pausch tells them this is just a fact of his life that cannot be changed. His challenge now is how to live his best life in these circumstances.
His adrenaline is pumping and Pausch feels strong; he does not look sick, either, so he assures his audience that he is not in denial or unaware of his situation. As he shows a photo of their new home, Pausch explains that he and his wife just uprooted their family—leaving home, friends, and school—so they would be surrounded by family who will help them and love them when he is gone.
The worst chemotherapy and radiation are over, and he is now only being treated with palliative chemo. He is in exceptionally good health; it is ironic that he is actually in better physical condition than nearly everyone in the room. Earlier in the day, Pausch had wondered if he would be able to do what he had planned—but he feels good and moves to the center of the stage. To the audience’s delight, Pausch drops to the floor and begins doing push-ups. Now that the audience knows he is not “just some dying man,” that he is who he always was, he can begin to share his life with them.