Abstract for Possible Presentation of the Last Lecture
James A. Lemons, MD, Emeritus Professor of Pediatrics
Indiana University School of Medicine
I would first like to thank you for the honor of being considered for presenting the "Last Lecture" at IUPUI. It is wonderful to see how many institutions have taken up this tradition, following in the footsteps of Randy Pausch of Carnegie Mellon. It is somewhat intimidating and humbling to think one can impart wisdom perspectives to others, particularly to our younger generations, and particularly any new or fresh ideas. So I don't have such aspirations — but on the other hand it is true, I think, that each person's story is unique, and therefore the understanding and interpretation of people's journeys becomes an important part of humanity's collective conscience and knowledge — the more of these journeys we can share and become aware of, the better. My story is not that special, but it is unique. From a professional view, it is the story of my involvement in neonatology and helping to develop our Section at IUPUI into one of the largest and perhaps one of the best in the country over the past 34 years. Certainly newborn intensive care medicine on the surface has dominated my career path. But in reflecting back and trying to discern a theme around which I might fashion a presentation for the Last Lecture, I have found it difficult to tease out a single thread with which to weave the whole.
There have been so many life lessons learned from knowing so many other people who have been important in guiding and fashioning my own life, most of these lessons learned without realizing it at the time. Among these are the almost constant challenges of trying to do what is "right" (and now seeing it might be better focused on trying to do what is "good"). Or how to embrace diversity and the struggle to become nonjudgmental, particularly in trying to become excellent physicians and health care providers — and perhaps in trying to become better persons as a whole. Or the struggle to take risks, to seek, to better understand and care about the unknown or the "different" – which is often uncomfortable — to go where we may not know the rules, or where people or the situations are frightening, where there is poverty, crime, hunger, etc. – but when we get there we often find it is where we should have been all along. Or to struggle with overcoming our fears, which are so prevalent around the world, and which are often promoted actively or passively to keep us divided and possibly in opposition with one another. Or the struggle to follow one's passion (or one's bliss as my son says) — to truly follow your heart, which often means becoming a nonconformist, perhaps standing alone — very difficult but very important to do and to nurture in others. Or the struggle to focus on others' strengths instead of their weaknesses, to look for ways to lift up and affirm others, to enable people to affirm themselves and thereby reach greater fulfillment of their dreams, their potential, their gifts. Or the struggle to constantly learn to better care for each other, to more deeply understand and appreciate others, and ultimately to love others as well as our whole creation.
I do not mean to wax too philosophical — I have many stories learned from others that continue to shape my life — from my parents and family; my wonderful wife and children; mentors all along the way who directed me along my path when I didn't know which way to turn, or even that I should turn; from close friends at different points in my journey; from persons who live in the margins of our world (through extended experiences here and in the third world with the many people I have come to know who are among the least); through caring for and being taught by thousands of fragile newborns and their families in our newborn intensive care units; through dealing with the death of a child and chronic grief on a regular basis; through knowing countless special needs children and the clarity with which they often see our world; through the incredible journeys of almost 300 people who have shared their extraordinary stories in a class I help organize at our church each Sunday ; from the faculty, fellows, residents, students and staff I have worked with in our Section, our department, our school, our university and many other institutions and organizations around the world; and perhaps most from the many young people I interact with who have such a passion and capacity to reshape our world and give us hope. Exactly how to possibly bring all of these into a presentation which reflects their individual contribution and impact, I am not sure – but would certainly do my best.
Again thank you for supporting and enabling the Last Lecture — it will be a genuine gift to learn of the journey of whoever is selected to present, and it is an honor to be considered. Thank you.
Sincerely, Jim Lemons