Thursday, February 19, 2015

"Face to face with dying."

I read the news today, oh boy!  Oliver Sacks has terminal cancer.  He is dying :(

Of course, he is not a young man.  At 81, well, one is expected to be closer to the end than is a 21-year old, yes.  But, death at any age, and the process of dying, is not easy to deal with.  "I cannot pretend I am without fear" Sacks writes in that piece.

It was in graduate school that I came to know about Sacks.  Through a fellow-Indian student, who was doing his doctorate in the engineering school.  He told me about The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales.  I then read it as much as I could understand the intricacies there.  (Even sweeter was that he--the student, that is--met a friend of mine, at a gathering at my place and they remain married to this date!)

And then, of course, was the movie Awakenings.  A few years ago, Sacks was in Portland, on a book-tour-lecture.  About his childhood and science and experiments.

He is dying.
my luck has run out — a few weeks ago I learned that I have multiple metastases in the liver. Nine years ago it was discovered that I had a rare tumor of the eye, an ocular melanoma. Although the radiation and lasering to remove the tumor ultimately left me blind in that eye, only in very rare cases do such tumors metastasize. I am among the unlucky 2 percent.
The very reflective person and writer that Sacks has always been, well, it is no surprise when he writes:
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.
For many of us, it might be a neat way to spend time at a party pondering over "if you knew you have only six months more to live, what will you do?"  But, in Sacks' case, as is the story with many others, it is a real deal. The timer is on.  A timer than cannot be reset.
I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at “NewsHour” every night. I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming.
This is not indifference but detachment
As much as I think about death and dying and about how I am mindful of the remaining third of my life, I know I will feel sad to exit this stage.  I like being in this wonderful play, even if sometimes the roles I get to act simply suck.  But, I hope to have that combination of "full of life" and "detachment" that Sacks writes about.
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.
It is, indeed, an enormous privilege to be a thinking animal, an animal with feelings, especially "on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam."

Thank you, Dr. Sacks!

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