Neurologist writes beautiful essay about what it's like learning he's about to die


oliver sacks

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Oliver Sacks speaks at the World Science Festival in 2008.

Oliver Sacks, a neurologist and revered writer of many New Yorker articles and books, penned an essay in Thursday's New York Times that begins by sharing his recent diagnosis of terminal liver cancer.


But he doesn't stop there.

Sacks has always been a master at sensitively capturing some of the most difficult and puzzling human conditions, and somehow he is able here to turn that lens on himself as he is, in his words, "face to face with dying."

As Sacks, 81, takes stock of his long and prolific career, he explains his renewed commitment "to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can," even as he feels a certain sense of detachment and perspective.

His nearly unmatched skill in communicating that perspective to readers in such a moving and cogent way makes his essay that much more poignant to read.


Here's Sacks:

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 shall no longer look at "NewsHour" every night. I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming.

This is not indifference but detachment - I still care deeply about the Middle East, about global warming, about growing inequality, but these are no longer my business; they belong to the future. I rejoice when I meet gifted young people - even the one who biopsied and diagnosed my metastases. I feel the future is in good hands.


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.

Read his moving essay in full at The New York Times.