Oliver Sacks (on awakening to the end)

Oliver Sacks is the neurologist and professor who was brought to cinematic life by Robin Williams in Awakenings, helping and observing as Bob DeNiro’s coma patient emerges from the darkness. (Side note which I vaguely promise will not turn into an intolerably long digression, but the length of whose prefatory remarks must even now be giving pause to sensitive and perceptive readers such as you: I notice suddenly the number of films in which Williams is the psychiatrist/healer. Not just Awakenings, but his gruff and brilliant therapist to Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting, and his turn as Patch Adams, the unconventional MD who used humour and nonsense to heal and console his patients. All of which did Williams no good at all in calming his own demons, or so it would seem. Terminate digression.)

Sack’s books on psychological oddities and wonders — Awakenings was his second book, I think, followed by such titles as The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, Musicophilia, An Anthropologist on Mars — made him famous and beloved, though not always embraced by medical rivals. Now that he’s dying, as he announced recently, I want to read more than I have. Typical. In his New York Times op-ed, he said the following, and given how much I’ve been thinking and writing about death and legacies and the Ultimate Writer’s Deadline — pun gravely intended — Dr. Sacks’s perspective attracted me:

“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….I feel the future is in good hands.”

Oliver Sacks (1933-notlongfromnow) has spent his life as a student of the human brain, and written about his learning adventures relentlessly and very well. Thanks for sharing, Ollie.


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