Author’s coming death makes him view life differently

Oliver Sacks, the neurologist and author, is dying, as we all are, I guess. Nobody gets out of life alive.

But he knows — roughly — the time of his departure, or at least he’s got it narrowed down a little more than most 81-year-olds do: It’s soon. He found out recently he has multiple metastases in the liver.

So he’s written about his new outlook on life in today’s New York Times op-ed. It’s clearly aimed at having us analyze ours.

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 have been increasingly conscious, for the last 10 years or so, of deaths among my contemporaries. My generation is on the way out, and each death I have felt as an abruption, a tearing away of part of myself. 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.

This is one of those rare times when you actually do want to read the attached comments.