Thank you Oliver Sacks.

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.

Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks

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”.

He continues

“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.

And…

“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.”

IMG_0327Please, 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.”

An Ordinary Day

Well, maybe not so ordinary. I’ve just spent almost three weeks relieving in a local school library, and when I work all my routines go out the window. All I do is go to work, come home and get ready for the next day. So now I’ve finished that block I’m focused on writing, publishing some posts, exercising, practicing mindfulness… AND tidying, cleaning, vacuuming, gardening… catching up on long overdue paperwork….

You get the idea. I had breakfast sitting in the sun on the front verandah, making lists, with all my different colured textas and pens. Arrows, asterisks, underlinings, highlightings….What would be the best use of my time? How can I make sure I get the most important things done? What are the priorities?

Eventually I decide that I’ll feel best if my home is clean and tidy; chaos is unsettling and clean floors are a pleasure. Somehow, deciding this gives me permission to just get on and stop worrying about wasting time.

the calm of clouds in a blue sky.

the calm of clouds in a blue sky.

It’s a beautiful day. Sunny, warm, still, blue; small clouds decorate the sky. This town is set in a ring of hills, but not buried in a valley. It has the best skyscapes and since I’ve been here I keep driving out of town to take sky photos.

There’s washing on the line. I’ve finally planted the struggling peppermint geranium cutting –  it may still survive. It’s been sitting in water on the window sill for?? weeks? months? and I’ve kept promising myself that I’ll plant it today, but then, there’s always those priorities… But now, it’s planted!

the pleasure of washing, drying in the sun.

the pleasure of washing, drying in the sun.

I’ve sprayed the aphids on the roses with soapy water. And I’ve sat in the sun drinking cups of tea, chatting with my neighbours. I confess, I’ve also spent some time gazing at the sky, watching birds, checking out the way the gum looks against the blue of the sky… in other words, daydreaming and simply being glad I’m alive.

The vacuuming isn’t done, nor is the house tidy but I feel relaxed and happy. Of course the question still remains: how do I manage to do what needs to be done and also those things that are the most important?  I read other writers who juggle the demands of caring for a child while earning a living as full-time writers. I am in awe of their discipline. I’ve recently read a TED blog about a woman who was bed-ridden with chronic pain and chose to work as a TED translator during that time. There are plenty of role models of people who achieve in spite of the odds.

A pretty end to a pretty day.

A pretty end to a pretty day.

But today, I will revel in my freedom.