Oliver Sacks Contemplates Mortality (and His Terminal Cancer Diagnosis) in a Thoughtful, Poignant Letter

oliver sacks letter

Image by Lui­gi Novi. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Mak­ing the rounds today on the Inter­net is a poignant let­ter from Oliv­er Sacks, announc­ing that he has ter­mi­nal can­cer. An NYU pro­fes­sor of neu­rol­o­gy who has pub­lished sev­er­al best­selling books (includ­ing one that became the basis for the 1990 film, Awak­en­ings, star­ring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro) Sacks first devel­oped ocu­lar melanoma nine years ago, and it appar­ent­ly, sad­ly, metas­ta­sized to the liv­er.

Per­haps mor­tal­i­ty is some­thing you think about fair­ly often; or maybe you haven’t reached that point in life yet. Either way, I’d rec­om­mend giv­ing his let­ter a read, and then maybe tuck­ing it away. Because when — as is inevitable — you find your­self fac­ing mor­tal­i­ty head on, Sacks’ thoughts and out­look may help guide you through. His let­ter con­cludes:

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.

Read Oliv­er Sacks’ let­ter in full here.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Death, a Free Open Course from Yale (found on our list, 1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties)

This is What Oliv­er Sacks Learned on LSD and Amphet­a­mines

Aldous Huxley’s Most Beau­ti­ful, LSD-Assist­ed Death: A Let­ter from His Wid­ow

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