Review: Gratitude by Oliver Sacks

Sunday 8 November 2015
"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."
— Oliver Sacks, Gratitude

I received a perfect gem in the mail on Friday. At 45 pages, Gratitude by Oliver Sacks may be compact, but it's large in impact, as the author and neurologist reflects on the life he knows he's leaving behind as he nears death. I read Gratitude in one sitting, and I'll read it again, because despite Sacks' diagnosis of fatal cancer, this book brims with optimism and grace.

Gratitude includes four essays: "Mercury," which was written as Sacks' 80th birthday loomed; "My Own Life," which was shared widely after it was published in the New York Times in February; "My Own Periodic Table," which reflects on the author's tie to metals and minerals, which he calls "emblems of eternity"; and finally, "Sabbath," which was published in the Times a mere two weeks before Sacks' death

Gratitude wasn't enough, so I spent much of this morning reading other pieces Oliver Sacks published in the New York Times in the years leading up to his death, including "This Year, Change Your Mind," an essay that, among many other things, speaks to loss of sight. Even long before Sacks' himself became partially blind, a result of his cancer, he wrote at length about blindness. The pocket watch photographed above was my great-grandfathers, and family lore tells me it's one of the first braille pocket watches, useful to my great-grandfather who suffered sight loss after the First World War. It seems especially fitting to a book about time running out by a man captivated by metal and who himself wrote some of the most beautiful text about blindness.

It's a cliche, but good things come in small packages. Gratitude is proof of that. 

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