I just read that the brilliant physician-writer Oliver Sacks died yesterday from a rare form of eye cancer. Although he had been diagnosed with the disease several years ago, he learned earlier this year that the cancer, a form of melanoma, had spread aggressively into his liver.
At that time, he wrote a moving Op-Ed for the New York Times, and I bookmarked it because his words reflecting on his terminal diagnosis really resonated with me.
It is up to me now 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.
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.
I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.
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.
Good advice, I think, for anyone, not just those facing the end of life.
I have been a devotee of Dr. Sacks’s books since I first picked up a copy of The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat over 20 years ago.
A neurologist, Dr. Sacks told the stories of his most interesting patients. But he didn’t just focus on the dry, clinical facts of a particular disease or defect. Writing with great insight, compassion and humor (when appropriate), he affirmed the humanity of those stricken individuals, and encouraged his readers to comprehend and empathize with the emotional and social impacts of these neurological disorders.
Related story in Wired: The fully immersive mind of Oliver Sacks
I believe any patient of his must have been very lucky.
RIP Dr. Sacks. Your gifts will be missed.
My favorite books by Oliver Sacks: