A Thank You Note to Oliver Sacks and the Privilege of Living

(I apologize for the lack of a post last week. I wasn’t feeling well; I tried writing a blog post somewhat related to the topic of Valentine’s Day but the draft wasn’t up to par. I’m doing better this week. Thanks again for reading!)

Oliver Sacks portraitOliver Sacks, the well-known neurologist, professor, and author of multiple books, has written a life-affirming article in the NYTimes in the opinion section titled My Own Life: Oliver Sacks on Learning He has Terminal Cancer. If I’m fortunate enough to live as long, and as full of life as Dr. Sacks I hope to face death with as much dignity and vigor for life as he has stated in his writing. Dr. Sacks described himself as “a man of vehement disposition, with violent enthusiasms, and extreme immoderation in all my passions … 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 … But there will be time, too, for some fun (and even some silliness, as well) …  I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.

Within the article, Dr. Sacks speaks a bit about people’s uniqueness.

There will be no one like us when we are gone but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate – the genetic and neural fate – of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.

These words mirror a poignant quote from Richard Dawkins’s book Unweaving the Rainbow, which I read in The Sense of Style: the Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century! by Steven Pinker, just a few days earlier describing how lucky we are to even be born into this world.

“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia, Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.”

(I would like this quote read at my funeral, as many others apparently have done.)

I feel grateful for the life I have after reading the words of these two men and reminded me not to take my existence, or anyone else’s, for granted.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

In my early, nascent years as a creative arts therapist Oliver Sacks’s book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat was recommended to me. The book provided a humanistic and compassionate view of people with neurological disorders and helped reinforce that people are not their illnesses. Thank you Oliver Sacks for your dedication to spreading knowledge, teaching others, and sharing your spirit. May you get to do all that you wish in life before you reach the end of your journey.

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A Thank You Note to Oliver Sacks and the Privilege of Living