The stories of our lives

Last week, Esteban brought home a copy of Bill Bryson’s autobiography, The Life and Times of The Thunderbolt Kid. “And I got it for only 50 cents,” he said, grinning. Apparently, the only thing better than a good book is a cheap good book.

Esteban and I are big fans of Bill Bryson. (Even if we regret reading A Walk in the Woods on a particular camping trip. The chapter about bear attacks made for at least one sleepless night in our flimsy nylon tent.)

But I digress.

I’m only about a third of the way through Thunderbolt Kid and already I’m wondering how Bryson can possibly remember so many details about his childhood. Where I have only faded, fleeting images of an abandoned house or a childhood prank, Bryson can weave a rich, colorful tapestry of names and events.

Maybe I should have taken better notes.

Actually, Bryson’s book is a wonderful juxtaposition to Randy Pausch’s autobiography, which I finished just last week. The Last Lecture is also a memoir of sorts, but it focuses more on life’s lessons than events.

The lesson that most resonated for me was “The Man in the Convertible.”

“One morning, well after I was diagnosed with cancer, I got an email. … [My colleague] said she had been driving home from work … and she found herself behind a man in a convertible. … His arm was hanging over the driver’s side door, and his fingers were tapping along to the music on his radio. … From the side, she could see that the man had a slight smile on his face, the kind of absentminded smile a person might have when he’s all alone, happy in his own thoughts. [She] found herself thinking, “Wow, this is the epitome of a person appreciating this day and this moment.”

Pausch’s colleague soon realized that the man in the convertible had recently been given only a few months to live. How could he be so happy? He was thoroughly enjoying the moment.

When you really think about it, our lives are nothing but a collection of moments, strung together like pearls on a string.

How fortunate for Bryson that he remembers so many of those moments so vividly. And how touching that Pausch is remembered for living that singular moment so happily.

Somewhere between the two lies a lesson for the rest of us: Treasure the past. Plan for the future. But enjoy the present to your fullest capacity.

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