It’s been about a week now. Last Sunday, Dr. Oliver Sacks died.
For those who have not yet had the great pleasure of reading Oliver Sacks, I’ll make the briefest of introductions here: Dr. Sacks was a neurologist, an author, and a mesmerizing story-teller.
I don’t intend to eulogize him. Others have done that far more eloquently and powerfully than I am capable. My hope is simply that I might encourage you to explore his works for yourself. (You can thank me later).
Sacks wrote on many subjects, but especially on the case studies of patients who had rare, anomalous brain conditions. And, as other authors have pointed out, these stories reveal a story-teller of great curiosity, compassion, and creative intelligence.
Julia Beluzz’s tribute at www.vox.com — Why Oliver Sacks Was So Amazing in 6 Quotes –highlights his love and compassion for people, his celebration of human resilience, and his trenchant understanding of suffering.
Michiko Kakutani’s piece in the New York Times — Oliver Sacks, Casting Light on the Interconnectedness of Life — is fantastic.
As are the entries that Maria Popova has written at Brainpickings.com: here.
But, it’s really in reading Sacks yourself that you will get a sense of his genius and vitality.
The first article I remember reading by Sacks was a story, ironically enough, about a severe amnesiac, Clive Wearing: The Abyss.
Now as someone interested in meditation, I often hear people talk about their attempts to get, “into the present moment, free from thoughts of the future and past, free from concepts.” Perhaps they want to abide in a “pure” connection with the Now.
Well, the story of Clive Wearing gives a real peek into what that experience would be like. And far from being a pleasant and agreeable experience, the present moment withoutmemory is revealed to be an intolerable prison of misery: “a never-ending agony.”
That story, in particular, has operated in my mind like a koan or spiritual riddle, forcing me to really question what is going on in the meditative process. What am I really after? Spiritual tropes about ‘being in the present moment,’ don’t suffice; they limp with inadequacy. And my last several blogs have begun to articulate that questioning. And more will come.
But, ultimately, it was Sacks’ robust intrigue into life and learning that I find so inspiring. Simply reading him is to receive an infusion of enthusiasm, and I am ever grateful for that contribution.
To the very end, Sacks’ writing channeled and supercharged that infectious enthusiasm and acute awe: Sabbath.
May he rest after a life well-lived.
Originally published on September 7, 2015