(& scroll down to read my literary sleuthing posts)
Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Man Who Took His Dying As An Opportunity to Teach

I am sure that many of you reading this are familiar to some degree or another with the extraordinary books and career of Oliver Sacks, and have also heard the very sad news that he went public only a few weeks ago, that he is dying of metastatic liver cancer, and has less than a year to live.

The other day, I had the extraordinary experience of reading a piece written by him in the NY Review of Books entitled “A General Feeling of Disorder”:

I could not more strongly urge that every sentient intelligent person ought to read Sacks’s account of one important aspect of the process of dying he is experiencing and writing about in real time. It is not that long, and if you have ever enjoyed reading any of his books, you can readily imagine that it delivers the extraordinary combination of intellect, humanism, and demystification that is his trademark. But it now adds other elements, being the courage and generosity of spirit to devote so much of his precious, short remaining time on earth to helping other human beings understand their own bodies and souls, by offering his own experience as a model for how to die not merely with dignity, but with grace and love.

Among other things, Sacks made utterly clear to me the distinction between the central nervous system and the autonomic nervous system in the human body, a distinction I had barely recognized previously, and had therefore never realized the giant hole in my understanding. He not only filled that hole of knowledge, he made it clear why it is something every person ought to understand, and he did it in his characteristic mesmerizingly lucid and almost poetic prose.

More than that introduction would be utterly superfluous, as Sacks needs no translator of his ideas. No one has ever written better about such important and interesting matters, in ways that penetrate so easily to a reader’s heart and mind.

So, if you read his piece and find it as compelling as I did, please pass the link on through your own social media network, so that he can reach as wide an audience as possible, in real time. We will all, one day, sooner or later, be facing the same sort of trial he is now undergoing, and I now feel more than a little better prepared for that eventuality, having been gently taught life and death lessons by the greatest master of the art. No holy writ could have touched my spirit more deeply.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

No comments: