Long time readers know I’m continually inspired by ‘seize-the-day’ true believers of any age and persuasion, but especially by those still sucking the marrow out of life — even as the sun ebbs.
Last July, I was enthused by Oliver Sacks’ testimony to “aging fearlessly with joy.” Sacks, a neuroscientist by profession, offered his life reflections about old age in a New York Times essay on the eve of turning 80. Besides being a time of leisure and freedom, Sacks observed that with old age, those remaining sands of the hourglass also provide a time “to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together.”
A terminal condition.
But recently, I learned Sacks had returned again to the pages of the ‘Gray old lady,’ but this time to reflect anew not only about life — but also about “his luck” running out on learning that at 81, he has terminal cancer.
Writing last month, Sacks described how “a few weeks ago I learned that I have multiple metastases in the liver.” The news, he declared, gave him “a sudden clear focus and perspective” with no room left for the “inessential.”
Not to be unsympathetic, his was hardly the uncommon reaction. It was Samuel Johnson, after all, who long ago observed, “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”
All the same, Sacks resolved, “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.”
And ever introspective, dwelling on the abruptions felt with the passing of his generation’s contemporaries, he poetically reflected, “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.”
With his concluding thoughtful ruminations, I have to admit how much I gained from what Sacks said so evocatively. He was moving and meaningful. He again inspired those paying attention to live more deeply felt, more fully awake lives. “I cannot pretend I am without fear,” he wrote. “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.”
Photo Credits: Hourglass, by AliHanlon at Flickr via Creative Commons attribution license; Bridge into fog by , U.S. Army at Flickr via Creative Commons attribution license; Flaming From Behind, by AliHanlon at Flickr via Creative Commons attribution license.