I’ve just read the article published in the New York Times on the 19th of February where Oliver Sacks announced that he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. (My Own Life.) It’s a beautiful piece of writing- moving and provocative, hopeful and inspiring. But then, hasn’t Oliver Sacks always been challenging, moving, inspirational?
Oliver Sacks, Professor of Neurology at New York University.
I first heard of Oliver Sacks when “The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat” was published- an account of his work as a neurologist with patients living with difficult and rare conditions, such as Tourette’s Syndrome, Autism and Parkinsonism. Amazing stories about the resilience, courage and resourcefulness of these people, examples of our capacity to change and adapt. I knew little about such conditions, so this book was eye-opening.
“Awakenings” is probably his other most well known work. It’s an account of his work with a group of patients suffering sleeping sickness, years after there had been a pandemic of the disease. He was able to wake them, briefly. A sad and amazing story- later made into a movie starring Robert de Niro and Robin Williams.
His article begins
“A month ago I felt that I was in good, even robust, health. At 81, I still swim 1.6 kilometres a day. But my luck has run out….now I am face to face with dying”.
“It is up to me to choose how to live out the months that remain to me. I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can….”
I could take that statement as the way I want to live my whole life.
“Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.
On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.
This will involve audacity, clarity and plain speaking; trying to straighten my accounts with the world. But there will be time, too, for some fun (and even some silliness, as well)…..
I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have given much and I have been given something in return;…
Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”
Please, I beg you to read the article. Like me, you will be moved, challenged and inspired. What I would say if I received this diagnosis? What would I want for the time remaining me? How would I feel? How would I sum up my life?
How would you sum up your life? What would you want for the time remaining to you?
What better than to be able to say
“I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have given much and I have been given something in return…above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking anima, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”