by Bari Benjamin
As far back as I can remember when I learned to read and write, I longed to see my words on the printed page. My mother was an artist, an oil painter, so there were no coloring books for me. “Create your own pictures,” she would say, as she handed me bright, white sheets of paper with thick crayons. When I could write, she would say, “Tell your own stories.” I can still see myself, mousey, brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, blue cat-eye glasses, furiously scribbling my stories of fairies, princesses and princes to the rescue. I would proudly send my finished products to kids’ magazines and nervously wait for that magical letter that would say, we will publish your story. Sadly, it didn’t come.
As I grew, I concentrated my writing on high school, college, then graduate school themes and research papers, pushing my creative desires aside. But several years ago, my longings emerged again, first, faint glimmers, then a stronger pull that I couldn’t ignore.
It was at that time I became aware of Randy Pausch. He was a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, my home town. He was also a loving husband and father of three young children. A tall, lanky, handsome fellow with thick, dark hair and vibrant, sparkling eyes, Randy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the age of thirty-eight. When I watched him interviewed on television, I was mesmerized He was a courageous, strong, optimistic man, who lived his life fully and passionately. He was dying of cancer, but his focus was on living life. He had requested the opportunity to give his last lecture at the university. When professors retire, they are often asked to hold a final class to leave their legacy. Thousands of people attended his last lecture. There were lines in the street. He spoke, not about dying, but about achieving one’s childhood dreams. I rushed to buy his book, The Last Lecture, to learn more about his life.
Randy Pausch was tenacious. One of his childhood dreams was to work for Walt Disney Imagineering and create an amazing adventure in Disney World. After he received his
PhD in computer science, he attempted to fulfill his dream and sent letters of application. He was rejected but did not give up. Six years later, after developing a virtual reality system, he contacted Disney again. He persisted until he arranged a meeting with a top executive. The end result was a six month position working on a dream come true Disney project.
I was reading his book when I learned that two editors were looking for submissions for their anthology about milestones in women’s lives. I had recently written two essays, describing personal experiences that had drastically changed my life. I submitted them for review. They were both rejected. Disappointed, but determined, I tried again. I found a magazine and sent one of my stories. I was still cautiously hopeful. Again, it was rejected. I crawled into bed that evening and stared at the ceiling. My thoughts were muddied; my heart sunken. I couldn’t sleep.
I picked up Randy’s book and read to the end, tears streaming from my eyes. He moved me. His message was powerfully inspiring: Don’t give up. He had persevered and good had come out of it. But then, new thoughts trickled cross my mind. Is it okay to persevere and not succeed? Can’t we pat ourselves on the back purely for our efforts, say good job even if the outcome is not what we wished for? Faint rumblings in my stomach, like gnawing hunger pangs, energized my body, and I jumped out of bed.
I searched for another magazine online that might give my story a home. I submitted it and waited, this time caring less about the outcome and more about my hunger to create. Two days later, I read the magic words- We want to publish your story. Thank you, Randy Pausch. Thank you, Mom. And I gave myself a pat on my back.