Oliver Sacks – 1933-2015

oliver sacks2

“My father, who lived to 94, often said that the 80s had been one of the most enjoyable decades of his life. He felt, as I begin to feel, not a shrinking but an enlargement of mental life and perspective. 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, too. One has seen grand theories rise, only to be toppled by stubborn facts. One is more conscious of transience and, perhaps, of beauty. At 80, one can take a long view and have a vivid, lived sense of history not possible at an earlier age. I can imagine, feel in my bones, what a century is like, which I could not do when I was 40 or 60. 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 wish, and to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together.

–excerpt from New York Times article The Joy of Old Age. (No Kidding.) By Oliver Sacks, JULY 6, 2013

“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.”

–excerpt from “My Own Life: Oliver Sacks on Learning He Has Terminal Cancer,” New York Times, February 19, 2015

“Dr. Sacks, who died on Sunday at 82, was a polymath and an ardent humanist, and whether he was writing about his patients, or his love of chemistry or the power of music, he leapfrogged among disciplines, shedding light on the strange and wonderful interconnectedness of life — the connections between science and art, physiology and psychology, the beauty and economy of the natural world and the magic of the human imagination.”

–excerpt from New York Times article “Oliver Sacks, Casting Light on the Interconnectedness of Life,” By Michiko Kakutani August 30, 2015

For me, Oliver Sacks represented the best of what scientists, doctors, neurologists, and just plain humans can aspire to in life. While his books, essays, and articles frequently prompted criticism and were often considered controversial, he never lost his connection to his humanity, and demonstrated deep concern and compassion for his many patients, as well as his colleagues, family, and friends.

There is little that I can add to the many tributes appearing now in all the media outlets and online, but like many others, I first encountered the story and character of Dr. Sacks from the 1990 film, “Awakenings,” starring Robin Williams, and later during the 1993 PBS series called, “A Glorious Accident,” which included a round-table of prominent thinkers which included Oliver Sacks, Daniel C. Dennett, Stephen Jay Gould, Rupert Sheldrake, Freeman Dyson, and Stephen Toulmin.

Subsequent reading and viewing over the years of the work of Dr. Sacks, only increased my admiration and respect for his open-minded and humanistic approach to every subject. He left behind a legacy of scholarship and compassionate inspiration.

Godspeed, Oliver!

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