Eighty! I can hardly believe it. I often feel that life is about to begin, only to realize it is almost over.

From Brain Pickings We site here

oliversacks_gratitude

Having almost died at forty-one while being chased by a white bull in a Norwegian fjord, Dr. Sacks considers the peculiar grace of having lived to old age:

At nearly 80, with a scattering of medical and surgical problems, none disabling, I feel glad to be alive — “I’m glad I’m not dead!” sometimes bursts out of me when the weather is perfect… I am grateful that I have experienced many things — some wonderful, some horrible — and that I have been able to write a dozen books, to receive innumerable letters from friends, colleagues and readers, and to enjoy what Nathaniel Hawthorne called “an intercourse with the world.”

I am sorry I have wasted (and still waste) so much time; I am sorry to be as agonizingly shy at 80 as I was at 20; I am sorry that I speak no languages but my mother tongue and that I have not traveled or experienced other cultures as widely as I should have done.

Oliver Sacks by Bill Hayes
Oliver Sacks by Bill Hayes

But pushing up from beneath the wistful self-awareness is Dr. Sacks’s fundamental buoyancy of spirit. Echoing George Eliot on the life-cycle of happiness and Thoreau on the greatest gift of growing older, he writes:

My father, who lived to 94, often said that the 80s had been one of the most enjoyable decades of his life. He felt, as I begin to feel, not a shrinking but an enlargement of mental life and perspective. One has had a long experience of life, not only one’s own life, but others’, too. One has seen triumphs and tragedies, booms and busts, revolutions and wars, great achievements and deep ambiguities, too. One has seen grand theories rise, only to be toppled by stubborn facts. One is more conscious of transience and, perhaps, of beauty. At 80, one can take a long view and have a vivid, lived sense of history not possible at an earlier age. I can imagine, feel in my bones, what a century is like, which I could not do when I was 40 or 60. I do not think of old age as an ever grimmer time that one must somehow endure and make the best of, but as a time of leisure and freedom, freed from the factitious urgencies of earlier days, free to explore whatever I wish, and to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together.

Oliver Sacks by Bill Hayes
Oliver Sacks by Bill Hayes

In another essay, titled “My Own Life” and penned shortly after learning of his terminal cancer diagnosis at the age of eighty-one, Dr. Sacks reckons with the potentiality of living that inhabits the space between him and his death:

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. In this I am encouraged by the words of one of my favorite philosophers, David Hume, who, upon learning that he was mortally ill at age 65, wrote a short autobiography in a single day in April of 1776. He titled it “My Own Life.”

“I now reckon upon a speedy dissolution,” he wrote. “I have suffered very little pain from my disorder; and what is more strange, have, notwithstanding the great decline of my person, never suffered a moment’s abatement of my spirits. I possess the same ardour as ever in study, and the same gaiety in company.”

Gliding his mind’s eye over one of Hume’s most poignant lines — “It is difficult to be more detached from life than I am at present.” — Dr. Sacks considers the paradoxical way in which detachment becomes an instrument of presence:

Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.

On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.

Oliver Sacks by Wendy MacNaughton for Brain Pickings

Such intensity of aliveness, Dr. Sacks observes, requires a deliberate distancing from the existentially inessential things with which we fill our daily lives — petty arguments, politics, the news. With his characteristic mastery of nuance, he points to a crucial distinction:

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.

Decades after his beloved aunt Lennie taught him about dying with dignity and courage, Dr. Sacks lets this lesson come abloom in his own life. True to the defining enchantment of his books, he turns his luminous prose inward, then outward, and in a passage that calls to mind William Faulkner’s sublime living obituary, he exits this world — the world of writing and the world of life, for the two were always one for Dr. Sacks — with a breathtaking epitaph for himself:

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.

oliversacks_gratitude1

Gratitude is a bittersweet and absolutely beautiful read in its entirety. Complement it with Dr. Sacks on the life-saving power of musicthe strange psychology of writing, and his story of love, lunacy, and a life fully lived, then revisit my remembrance of Dr. Sacks’s singular spirit.

About the Author Chris Walker

Uniquely Australian, highly intuitive and inspired, Chris Walker is on the forefront of radical personal development and change that inspires people to find purpose and to live in harmony with the Laws of Nature. His methods are dynamic, and direct. His work is gifted, heart-opening and inspirational. The process Chris embraces can be confrontational, but if you are prepared to “step out” the personal power that this knowledge gives you is without doubt life changing and truly inspiring. Chris’s purpose is to open hearts and to stop the hurt. His work comes from his heart and is a truly magnificent gift for anyone ready to receive it. Chris shows people how to bring spirit into their life and keep it there. His sensitivity and empathy to others is his gift. The most powerful thing that we can do with our lives is to be on purpose, and live with the knowledge of spirit. Chris helps you discover this, that which is already yours, and through his work, you will find the courage and love to honour your-self and follow your heart. Chris brings his work to individuals and businesses. He believes for business success, you first need to create personal success, and this happens when your business and the people within it are on purpose. Chris Walker is an author, a speaker and a truly inspirational individual who has been fortunate enough in this life to find and live his truth.
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