Oliver Sacks is dying an optimist

A  great public intellectual writes about his robust good spirits in the face of a terminal diagnosis:

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 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.

Given his career, we probably wouldn’t expect anything less.  He’s been a remarkable ambassador on the connections between medicine and the humanities for decades.  A friend of mine once hosted him at her university for a series of lectures at the honors program she ran, and said that not only were his lectures and his meetings with students really smart and generous, but he also took a long walk with her on one of the days he was in town and talked over a career crisis she was having and offered a sympathetic ear as well as tremendously helpful advice.

Sacks is one of those people who remind us that generosity of spirit and the benefit of the doubt are almost always the right gesture.  What a remarkable life and death.

6 thoughts on “Oliver Sacks is dying an optimist

  1. I might very well be delusional, but I’ve convinced myself that if I were to learn that I’m gonna die soon, I would be OK with it. I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job of making other people feel good and enhanced their careers.


  2. It’s funny you write, that CPP: I’ve had some similar thoughts lately along the lines of being very satisfied with and grateful for my life. Not that I’m ready to go–too much unfinished business IMHO. Besides, as a friend of mine likes to say, there are advantages to “live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse.”

    (Not as many as living a longer life, though, especially if one still feels and looks as good as we do!)

    quixote and Susan: I know! I cried while I wrote this post and am getting misty again. Damn!


  3. True it is, though, that far too many people who live fast and die young leave a mangled or a shredded corpse, whether as a result of physical violence or extreme substance abuse and other concomitants of the “fast” part.


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