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Small Wonders: Life and the Crayon box

June 10, 2011|By Patrick Caneday

With so much wrong in the world today — the Dodgers' disintegration and Arnold's improprieties, Weiner's lewd tweets and Sarah's revisionist history — I've been looking for something uplifting to read to take my mind off the dark and destructive forces swirling about us like tornados in Massachusetts.

What better than the final words of a young father dying a slow death to pancreatic cancer?

A few years late, but I am reading “The Last Lecture,” by Randy Pausch. As you may recall, Pausch was a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University who was asked to partake in the school's “last lecture” series, wherein an instructor gives the hypothetical final lecture of their career. In Pausch's case, having just been diagnosed with terminal cancer, the opportunity was timely, to say the least.

He used the lecture to talk not about death, but about life. And he did it so eloquently, so simply and profoundly, that the great hand of all worldly power, fame and wealth reached down and anointed him.

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That's right. Oprah called.

The book that followed is a collection of Pausch's anecdotal insights and techniques for getting through life with some measure of success not counted in dollars. And one of his offerings, entitled “Get in Touch with Your Crayon Box,” struck me.

As Pausch tells it, he was a man whose view of the world was largely black and white for much of his life; believing that the things we encounter on our journeys are one or the other, true or false, with no gray areas, let alone any other shade. As he got older, though, he “learned to appreciate that a good crayon box might have more than two colors.”

He planned to hand out a crayon to every person attending his last lecture. He wanted everyone to take some time to feel and smell that crayon; to let that take them back to their childhood, before things got complicated, when dreams were still alive. But in the confusion of the event, that didn't happen.

It sure would be convenient if things were black and white, if every decision and circumstance we come upon could be boiled down to a simple choice between A and B, with the obvious answer being made clear.

We do get those decisions on occasion — Slurpee over Icee, red zinfandel over white, Patron tequila over Jose Cuervo. But I'd say the majority of our choices and relationships are not black and white. Fate, chance and experience throw red, blue and burnt sienna at us too.

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