Earlier this year, I shared famed neurologist Oliver Sacks’ farewell piece he wrote in The New York Times. Unfortunately on Sunday night, he passed away at the age of 82. The NYT has a wonderful obituary that reviews his life and work. I highly recommend reading it. However, I also recommend reading a piece written by Sacks just this last month simply titled “Sabbath.” After describing his Orthodox Jewish upbringing and relaying a rather heartbreaking incident between him and his mother over his homosexuality (Sacks was celibate later in life), he begins to dwell on the concept of the Sabbath. Quoting Nobel economist Robert John Aumann, he states, “The observance of the Sabbath is extremely beautiful and is impossible without being religious. It is not even a question of improving society — it is about improving one’s own quality of life.” Now Sacks has described himself as an “old Jewish atheist,” but he ends the piece with the following:
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.
Some of the final lines from the film Awakenings–adapted from Sacks’ book of the same title and with Robin Williams’ character based on Sacks himself–go hand-in-hand with this reflection.
May you rest in peace, Dr. Sacks.