For the past ten years, I have watched with increasing anxiety how peers die one after another. This is the fate of every person to be a unique person, to find their own path and live their own unique life.
Prominent British neuropsychologist and writer Oliver Sachs recently learned that he is terminally ill - he has the fourth stage of cancer. In an essay published in the New York Times, he looks back at his life. And makes plans for the future.
A month ago, I felt quite healthy, even remarkably healthy. I am 81 years old and I still swim 1.5 km. But my luck ran out - a few weeks ago, multiple metastases were found in my liver. Nine years ago, doctors diagnosed a rare type of tumor in my eye, eye melanoma. I went through chemotherapy and laser radiation and ended up blind in one eye. Such tumors rarely metastasize, I was among the two percent unlucky.
I am grateful for the gift of nine years of well-being and fruitful work, but now I stand face to face with death. Cancer has taken over a third of my liver, and although its progress can be slowed down, it is precisely this type of cancer that cannot be stopped.
Now it depends only on me how I will live the months that are left to me. I must try my best to live as richly, deeply, productively as possible. On this journey, I am inspired by the words of one of my favorite philosophers, David Hume. Learning at the age of 65 that he was terminally ill, Hume wrote a short autobiography-essay in one day in April 1776. He titled it My Life.
“I no longer doubt my imminent demise,” he wrote. - My illness almost did not cause me suffering, but, what is even more surprising, I, despite the approach of death, did not suffer for a minute from discouragement. I keep the same zeal at work, and I have just as much fun in the company of friends."
I was very lucky that I lived to be 80 years old, and the 15 years allotted to me beyond Hume's sixty-five were also filled with work and love. During this time, I published five books and wrote an autobiography (orders of magnitude longer than a few pages of Hume) - it will be out this spring; I have a few more books almost finished.
Hume continues: "I am … a man of meek disposition, even character, sincere, generous, cheerful humor, capable of devotion and little inclination to make enemies for myself, I am characterized by moderation in all my hobbies."
This is where Hume and I disagree. Although I had the joy of enjoying the company of loved ones and friends and I have never felt deep hatred for anyone, I cannot say (and no one who knows me will say) that I am a man of meek disposition. On the contrary, I have a hot, fierce disposition, passionate enthusiasm, and I am extremely unrestrained in all my hobbies. Yet one line from Hume's essay resonates with me: "I have never felt more detached from life than I do now."
In the past few days, I have been able to see my life as if from a great height - as a kind of landscape in which everything is interconnected. This does not mean that I have lost interest in life.
On the contrary, I feel extremely alive and really want, I hope to spend the rest of the time with my friends. To say goodbye to those whom I love, to finish writing what I did not have time to, travel, if I have the strength, to comprehend life deeper.
In all this, I will be reckless, I will say what I think to my face. I will try to put things in order, fix what I have to. But I will laugh and have fun too (and even do stupid things, why not).
Suddenly my gaze gained clarity and perspective. I have absolutely no time left for unimportant. I have to focus on myself, my work and my friends. I won't watch the news every night anymore. I will no longer follow the politics and the issue of global warming.
This is not indifference, but distance - my heart still hurts for the situation in the Middle East, for climate change, growing inequality between people, but all this does not concern me anymore, these events belong to the future. I am filled with joy when I meet gifted young people - even the one who diagnosed me with metastases. I know the future is in good hands.
For the past ten years, I have watched with increasing anxiety how peers die one after another. My generation is running out, and every death is given in me, as if they are tearing away a part of me. When we leave, there will be no one else like us, no one will be able to repeat us, but, on the other hand, it has always been so. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave a void that cannot be filled, because this is the fate of every person - the fate written in our genes and neurons - to be a unique person, find your own path, live your unique life and die your own unique death.
I don’t want to pretend I’m not scared. But there is still more gratitude in me than fear. I loved and was loved. Much has been given to me and I have tried to be generous in return. I read books and traveled, meditated and shared my thoughts on paper. I had a physical connection with the world, a very special relationship that arises between a writer and his reader.
The main thing is that I happened to be born a creature endowed with consciousness, a thinking animal on our beautiful planet, and this in itself is a great honor and an incredible adventure.