As the year draws to a close, I know of no better way to end it than to reproduce the sentiments of Oliver Sacks in his posthumous volume, Gratitude. It was written toward the end of his life, as he was in considerable pain.

Marks in the Margin was originally conceived in 2008 as a way to post passages from the books I’ve read. As it turned out, I never really did that. Today marks the exception, as I present the passages I copied from Gratitude.

In this instance, it is better to let the author speak, rather than provide a secondary account. It is also a reminder of how much there is to be grateful for.

Mercury is element number 80, and my dream is a reminder that on Tuesday, I will be eighty myself.

Elements and birthdays have been intertwined for me since boyhood, when I learned about atomic numbers. At eleven, I could say “I am sodium” (element 11), and now at seventy-nine, I am gold.

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

At nearly eighty, with a scattering of medical and surgical problems, none disabling, I feel glad to be alive—“I’m glad I’m not dead!”

I feel I should be trying to complete my life, whatever “completing a life” means.

Some of my patients in their nineties or hundreds say nunc dimittis--“I have had a full life, and now I am ready to go.”

hope that some of my books may still “speak” to people after my death.

At eighty, the specter of dementia or stroke looms.

Love and work, the two most important things, Freud insisted, in life

“Whatever has a beginning must have an ending.”

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. One has seen grand theories rise, only to be toppled by stubborn facts. One is more conscious of transience and, perhaps, of beauty. At eighty, one can take a long view and have a vivid, lived sense of history not possible at an earlier age.

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 feel grateful that I have been granted nine years of good health and productivity since the original diagnosis, but now I am face to face with dying.

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.

There is no time for anything inessential.

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.

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.

I was fascinated by my patients there, cared for them deeply, and felt something of a mission to tell their stories—stories of situations virtually unknown, almost unimaginable, to the general public and, indeed, to many of my colleagues.

Almost unconsciously, I became a storyteller at a time when medical narrative was almost extinct.

It was a lonely but deeply satisfying, almost monkish existence that I was to lead for many years.

The peace of the Sabbath, of a stopped world, a time outside time, was palpable, infused everything, and I found myself drenched with a wistfulness, something akin to nostalgia, wondering what if: What if A and B and C had been different? What sort of person might I have been? What sort of a life might I have lived?

And now, weak, short of breath, my once-firm muscles melted away by cancer, I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life—achieving a sense of peace within oneself. I find my thoughts drifting to the Sabbath, the day of rest, the seventh day of the week, and perhaps the seventh day of one’s life as well, when one can feel that one’s work is done, and one may, in good conscience, rest.


cath said...

What a meaningful way to mark the end of a year in reading and writing, Richard.
Like you I have spent the last week or so in the company of Oliver Sacks. I might do that again during the year's last week in future as quotes like f.i. the last two you have chosen, so very well fit into this time of retrospection.

Richard Katzev said...

Catherine: How much I appreciate your comment, as I was unsure if anyone would find a list of passages of any interest. There's so much to be grateful for, in spite of all the horrible news and the collapse of moral judgment. May the new year be a good one for you. Richard

Linda said...

Inspirational! Thank you. Just what I needed today, a quiet day, the first day of the new year, a day of looking back and wondering what lies ahead.

Just what I needed and need to remember.

Richard Katzev said...

Linda: That's what I thought too. There is much wisdom in those few sentences. Meanwhile, I hope you have not had to deal with the nearby floods. Thank you, for writing I hope you have a peaceful and healthy new year. Richard

Stefanie said...

Thank you for sharing that wonderful passage.

All the best to you in 2016!

Richard Katzev said...

Stefanie. I very much appreciate your comment and wish you a very good year of reading, biking, gardening and above all good health. Richard

crofter said...

Great post! I've not read any of his work, but is obvious now that I need to, and this might be a good one to start with. Thank you for the post, and a wish for your health and happiness in 2016!

Richard Katzev said...

Hi Crofter: Many thanks. You might also enjoy Sacks' memoir, On the Move, that I wrote about a while ago. I wish you all the best in the new year, as well. Richard