Neurologist Oliver Sacks’ Farewell

The great British-American neurologist Oliver Sacks recently discovered that he has terminal cancer. A rare tumor of the eye that left him blind in one eye metastasized and now occupies a third of his liver. Sacks is the author of several books, including The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, and Awakenings (which inspired the moving, Oscar-nominated film of the same name starring Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro). Perhaps as a kind of farewell, he penned a wonderful article in The New York Times. 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. In this I am encouraged by the words of one of my favorite philosophers, David Hume, who, upon learning that he was mortally ill at age 65, wrote a short autobiography in a single day in April of 1776. He titled it “My Own Life.” …I have been lucky enough to live past 80, and the 15 years allotted to me beyond Hume’s three score and five have been equally rich in work and love. In that time, I have published five books and completed an autobiography (rather longer than Hume’s few pages) to be published this spring; I have several other books nearly finished…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 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 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.

I look forward to his forthcoming work and wish him and his family the best. May his precious few moments be as exciting and joyful as he hopes for above.