Oliver Sacks thinks differently from me. He will be dead soon. He’s handling it much better than I would:
I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.
I am, to the best of my knowledge, no nearer to death than any other reasonably healthy 37-year-old American male, but I almost never feel “intensely alive.” If anything, I am keenly aware (paranoid?), constantly, of the utter void that inevitably awaits, some time…who knows when?
How does Sacks do it? If my end were knowingly near, I can’t conceive of my being in anything short of a panic. The End would be coming, soon. I would be counciled to achieve “acceptance,” but I find the very idea of the end of existence totally un-acceptable, and yet there is no option to reject it. Help! What do I do?
I will say that my perhaps premature mortal wariness urges me toward one way of Sacks’ thinking:
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.
But there remains my children, my wife, my creative pursuits. I can narrow my focus to those things and hopefully reap meaning from being alive. But I still feel that panic, that no matter how in-the-moment I manage to be, time simply refuses to stop advancing toward the void. It’s happening right now.
Sacks ends his piece with this expression of gratitude:
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.
It is, and as of right now, I don’t feel gratitude for having been able to experience it. I feel screwed that it will eventually be ripped away, and I don’t even know when.
Oliver Sacks thinks differently from me. We’ll be dead soon.
Relatedly, there’s my post where I explain why fear of death is not the same as fear of not-existing in the past, and there’s my post where I’m all flabbergasted by this guy who wants to end his life at 75.