Friday, June 28, 2013

Life Lessons from Pittsburgh

In the early 1980's, I visited the city of Pittsburgh for the first time in my life. I wasn't sure what to expect as I drove toward the "steel city." I had heard rumors of dirty air, potholed streets and abandoned buildings, so my expectations were not high. As I neared the city on I-376 (formerly I-279) I was mesmerized by the sight of a gleaming copper-colored building. It was located on a tree-covered hillside, and the brilliant colors of the sunset behind me were mirrored on its shining surfaces. I had never seen such a beautiful building.

Soon after passing that sight, I entered the Fort Pitt tunnel, a dark and noisy place. Ahead, I could see a small, light-filled opening. As my car passed through this opening, downtown Pittsburgh exploded into view. "Exploded" seems to be the only accurate way to describe this event.

Rivers, golden bridges, shining glass towers, a huge fountain and the fabled Three Rivers Stadium all glimmered before me. To my right, I saw a kaleidoscope of colors, formed by the homes clustered on the sides of Mt. Washington. This was not the dismal, dreary scene I had expected.

I spent several wonderful days traveling through tunnels, across bridges, around and over mountains, and up and down winding streets. The city had an amazing array of cultures, architecture, and activities. What struck me most during this visit was the welcoming feeling that I had everywhere I went. At the time, I was not married and had no children. That weekend, I decided that Pittsburgh was the place I wanted to live.

When I returned to my home in Wooster, Ohio, I turned in my two-weeks notice at a job that I loved. I sold most of my possessions, withdrew my savings and moved to Library, Pennsylvania, the last stop on the famous Pittsburgh trolley line.

Soon after I arrived, I noticed that many Pittsburghers spoke with great fondness of one of their better known residents, Fred Rogers, of the PBS program, "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." Mr. Rogers could often be seen walking his dog near Carnegie Mellon University. He always stopped to talk to people he met as he walked, and he was always kind. The first time I saw him was in the Columbus Day parade. Everyone shouted, "Hi Fred!" and he waved and shouted back, asking them if they were enjoying the parade, and how they liked the beautiful weather.

I wish I had understood more about this kind man during the time I lived in his "neighborhood." It wasn't until I had young children, that I began to realize what a kind and caring individual he was. He always spoke with tenderness and caring. I thought it was interesting to hear his reason for beginning his television program: "I got into television because I hated it so," he said. "And I thought there was some way of using this fabulous instrument to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen."

He paid attention to children's hopes and dreams and fears. He encouraged them to try new things, to be kind, to ask questions and to do their best.

Fred Rogers died of cancer in 2003, but Pittsburgh has not forgotten him. In March, in honor of what would have been his 80th birthday, the city hosted, "Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Days. Museums offered free admission; libraries hosted puppet-making workshops; many institutions held sweater drives, collecting sweaters of all sizes, colors and styles to donate to those in need. The response was overwhelming. Fred Rogers had a positive and lasting impact on so many people.

Now another Pittsburgh resident is in the news. Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, is dying of pancreatic cancer. In September, 2007, he delivered his "last public lecture" at CMU. His lecture was titled, "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams." In this lecture, he talked about his life, his work, his family, cancer, dying, and most of all, about living... really living.

He mentions his childhood dreams, and the importance of everyone's dreams. Professor Pausch tells of how wonderful it was that his parents let him paint his bedroom. He painted pictures of things he wanted to do in his life, and he has done many of those things. He asked other parents to allow their children to paint on the walls and not to worry about the possible mess. Throughout his lecture, he was sometimes humorous, sometimes serious, but nearly always positive and inspiring.

Although Professor Pausch's lecture was delivered to a capacity crowd at Carnegie Mellon, he makes it clear that he wrote it for only 3 people... his own three very young children. He wanted them to know their father better, and he wanted to tell them to dream big and to pursue their dreams.

Fred Rogers cared about all children. He reassured them and encouraged them. Randy Pausch's lecture was meant for his own children, but the parents of countless other youngsters are being inspired by his words to reassure and encourage their children.

What were your fears and your dreams when you were a child? What are they now? Are you still pursuing dreams you had as a child? If not, why not? How have your dreams changed over the years? Spend some quiet time thinking about these things. Life speeds by so quickly. We are often so involved with our daily tasks that we don't take time to pause and reflect on things that are important.

What are your children's fears? Listen to them. Help them find ways to face their fears, and to overcome them. What are their dreams? Listen carefully to those, also. How can you help them attain their goals? Set aside some quiet time to listen, and to share with each of your children. Don't wait for a catastrophic event, like life-threatening illness. Take the time now.

Listening and living,


***NOTE*** Randy Pausch died of complications from pancreatic cancer on July 25, 2008.

"Parents are like shuttles on a loom. They join the threads of the past with threads of the future and leave their own bright patterns as they go."
~ Fred Rogers

"Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood."
~ Fred Rogers

“I’ve never understood pity and self-pity as an emotion. We have a finite amount of time. Whether short or long, it doesn’t matter. Life is to be lived.”
~ Randy Pausch

“To be cliché, death is a part of life and it’s going to happen to all of us. I have the blessing of getting a little bit of advance notice and I am able to optimize my use of time down the home stretch.”
~ Randy Pausch

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