Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Inch Eighty: Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks, 1933-2015

Dr. Oliver Sacks, the renowned neurologist and author, died last Sunday. He had announced his terminal cancer diagnosis several months earlier in an evocative essay published in The New York Times.

Over the last 30 years, I have read some of his books, including The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat and Musicophilia, and many of his essays. Besides being a doctor, Sacks was a fluid writer. On the act of writing, he wrote: "The act of writing, when it goes well, gives me a pleasure, a joy, unlike any other. It takes me to another place — regardless of my subject — where I am totally absorbed and oblivious to distracting thoughts, worries, preoccupations, or indeed the passage of time."

Sacks was raised an Orthodox Jew. As a gay man in a religion, culture, and age that did not see homosexuality as anything but an abomination, he withdrew from his religion. In his last essay, published The New York Times just two weeks before his death, Sacks spoke of his severance and the unanswered "what ifs?" had there been a different reception back in his youth, an acceptance he now found in his late years.

In that same essay, he reflected on the Sabbath as a day of rest and as an apt guide for the closing of his life. Sacks wrote:

And now, weak, short of breath, my once-firm muscles melted away by cancer, I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life — achieving a sense of peace within oneself. I find my thoughts drifting to the Sabbath, the day of rest, the seventh day of the week, and perhaps the seventh day of one’s life as well, when one can feel that one’s work is done, and one may, in good conscience, rest.

When I saw the headline on Sunday that Sacks had died, my first response was to burst into tears. When I calmed down, I reflected on a life well lived, right to the very end in his showing us how to die.

I am grateful he found his Sabbath.

1 comment:

see you there! said...

Thank you for this bit of recognition of Sacks. I too was saddened at hearing of his death. He certainly gave the world a lot during his lifetime.