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, 1,500 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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