Submitted by Charles Knighton
Having recently returned to Barbados, I am unaware if the recent passing of Oliver Sacks occasioned any comment in the local press. Dr. Sacks was a writer of remarkable skill, able to deftly explain the profound […]
with easily understood prose.
Those unfamiliar with his work should […]take the opportunity provided by internet connectivity to peruse his essays, particularly his last essay contemplating his impending death.
There is no shortage of advice on how to live, but precious little on how to die. It should be a topic of universal concern, but is scrupulously avoided, so fearful are we of our mortality; even the dying rarely address death directly. So it was with great admiration that I read Dr. Sacks’ essay several months ago after being diagnosed with metastatic cancer. With the attention to detail, insight and childlike wonder that marked all of his writing, Sacks confessed his sadness at leaving the party, but noted that ” my predominant feeling is one of gratitude.”
His had been a rich, deeply considered life. “Above all,” he wrote in a beautiful coda, ” 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 have lived long enough now to have seen a fair number of people face their deaths. There are many ways to go: with rage that this could happen to me; in silent terror and pain, clinging to life through punishing medical treatments; and with a sad but accepting equanimity. Those who enjoy life most, strangely enough, seem to let go of it with the most grace.
People like Sacks seem to intuitively understand all along that we are visitors here, passing through a great mystery. Every moment of life, including the final ones, is a gift—a chance to appreciate, grow, connect and give back. When my time comes, I fervently hope I can exit with a semblance of Sacks’ dignity and peace, and if I may be so presumptuous, I wish the same for you.