Oliver Sacks: a man who was awake to life

ONE OF THE many attributes of eminent neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks was his celebration of life – even when he knew he was dying.

Sacks (pictured) died last Sunday at age 82. Earlier this year he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and wrote in the New York Times of how “this does not mean that I am finished with life”.

“On the contrary, I feel intensely alive… I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective,” he wrote. “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.”

Sacks’ work in developing a drug which awoke people from a catatonic state gave birth to his book Awakenings and later a movie of the same name, starring Robin Williams and Robert de Niro.

To me, it seems that knowledge of his impending death was an awakening, a reinforcement in his case, to enjoy and live life, what little there may be left.

I was alluding to much the same sentiment in my recent post, Beam me up Scotty. Not that I am anywhere near death, but I was suggesting in that post that life becomes especially precious as we approach the end of it. And that we need more of it to achieve all the things we want to achieve.

“There is no time for anything inessential,” said Sacks in his New York Times article reflecting on news of terminal cancer. “I must focus on myself, my work and my friends.”

I particularly like his promise to “no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming,” explaining that “this is not indifference but detachment — I still care deeply about the Middle East, about global warming, about growing inequality, but these are no longer my business; they belong to the future.”

Ah, the future. We know not what it holds. Which makes it all the more vital to concentrate on how we deal with the present.

Thank you for your writings, Oliver Sacks. We all benefited from your life on this earth.

Len Horne

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