Oliver Sacks

Death is inevitable, and we’ve all heard that phrase more than we’d care to admit. It’s been worn to the ground and tossed aside carelessly so often that it’s nothing revolutionary.

Except when it is.

Because when you think about it, death is an astonishing, horrifying, mesmerizing thing. Living beings have expiration dates and at the moment there is nothing we can do to change that. Or is there?

History and stories. I think that’s the answer and our ticket past death and into immortality. It’s not the same as “true immortality,” granted, but it’s the closest thing we have.

When I stumbled across Oliver Sacks’ recent articles in the New York Times, truth be told, I did not feel the slightest hint of his so-called life-eating disease. I felt his energy and his voice, even though he wrote with a contemplative and sometimes nostalgic air of thought. I felt him living and breathing, not even close to our old friend, death.

Oliver Sacks died today at the age of 82. His last article in the newspaper was “Sabbath.”

Funny thing is, I don’t think he’s dead. His corporeal body? Yes, fine, I won’t dispute that. His voice, though? No way. Because when I revisit his writing and his books, Oliver Sacks comes back to life. He may not be adding any more words to his vast collection of works, but he will be speaking for a long time.

I don’t think it’s coldness, this absence of pain, or, in better words, this hint of disbelief. I don’t feel a particular shock or hurtling wave of emotions towards his death. Perhaps the blow was softened by his own recognition and confrontation, or perhaps I just haven’t fully processed the news.

Yet there is that other conclusion, the one that seems questionable and highly based on beliefs, the one I think to be true: Oliver Sacks has not died because his voice has not faded and it is still ringing in our minds, and as long as that is happening, then he is living and breathing in our hearts, between ink and paper, on backlit screens, strung across the shining stars.

Photo courtesy of Andrea Mohin/The New York Times

Photo courtesy of Andrea Mohin/The New York Times


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