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  • Date: September 20, 2016

"There will be no more like us." Oliver Sachs on life, death and meaning

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A year ago, Oliver Sachs died - one of the most famous psychologists of our time. We publish his last column, written six months before his death. Believe me, it is worth reading.
“A month ago, it seemed to me that my health was good, even strong. I am 81, but I still swim a mile in a day. But my luck is over. A few weeks ago I learned that there are multiple metastases in my liver. Nine years ago it was discovered that I have a rare eye swelling. Because of the radiotherapy and the lasers with which the tumor was removed, I was eventually blind in one eye. In my case, the probability that the swelling of the eye will metastasize was not great - but I was not lucky. ”
"There will be no more like us." Oliver Sachs on life, death and meaning

"There will be no more like us." Oliver Sachs on life, death and meaning

I am grateful for nine years of healthy and productive life after that initial diagnosis, but today I am face to face with death. A third of my liver was consumed by cancer, and although it can be slowed down, it cannot be stopped.
I have to understand how to live the remaining months. I have to live them in the richest, deepest, most productive way. To this I am inspired by the words of one of my favorite philosophers David Hume, who, at the age of 65, having learned that he was mortally ill, wrote a short autobiography. It took him only one day in April 1776. He called her "My Life."
“I suffered very little from my illness, and, what is even more curious, despite the strong exhaustion of the body, my mental equilibrium did not leave me for a minute,” wrote Hume. “I retained the same passion for science, the same liveliness in society as before.”
"There will be no more like us." Oliver Sachs on life, death and meaning

I was lucky that I lived for more than 80 years, 15 years longer than Hume, and those years were just as rich in terms of work and love. During this time I published five books and finished my autobiography (it is longer than a few pages of Hume), which will be published this spring. And I almost finished some more books.
"I," continues Hume, "was distinguished by the meekness of nature, self-control, open, sociable and cheerful disposition, ability to become attached, inability to harbor hostility and great moderation in all passions."
Here I am different from Hume.Although I enjoyed warm relationships and friendship, I have no real enemies, I can not say that I am a gentle person. On the contrary, I am a rather belligerent person, I am often embraced by attacks of cruel enthusiasm and complete immoderation in all my hobbies.
"There will be no more like us." Oliver Sachs on life, death and meaning

Yet one line from Hume’s essay seems strikingly true to me: “It’s hard to be less attached to life than I am now.”
Over the past few days I have been able to see my life as if from a great height, like a landscape, and the feeling of connectedness of all its components deepened in me. This does not mean that life is over for me. On the contrary, I feel extremely alive, and I want and hope for the remaining time to achieve even deeper friendship, say goodbye to everyone I love, write something else, travel, if you have enough power, to reach new levels of understanding and meaning.
This will require audacity, clarity and directness of speech. I will have to achieve clarity in my relationship with the world. But I will have time for fun (and even some nonsense).
"There will be no more like us." Oliver Sachs on life, death and meaning

I suddenly feel focused and see a perspective. There is no time for anything irrelevant. I have to focus on myself, on my work and on my friends.I will no longer watch the news in the evenings. I will no longer spend my attention on policies or controversies about global warming.
This is not indifference, but lack of affection: I am still deeply concerned about the situation in the Middle East, global warming, growing inequality. But this is no longer my business - these things belong to the future. I admire when I meet gifted young people — even those who have done a biopsy for me and diagnosed me. I feel that the future is in good hands.
In the past ten years, I have been more attentive to the deaths of my contemporaries. My generation is on the way to the exit, and each death seemed to me a precipice, cutting off a part of myself. Such as we will no longer be. But there will never be people like you. When people die, they are no longer replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, because the fate - both genetic and neural - of every human being is to become a unique individual, find your own way, live your own life, die your own death.
"There will be no more like us." Oliver Sachs on life, death and meaning

I can't pretend to be without fear. But my main feeling is gratitude. I loved and was loved. I was given a lot, and I gave something in response.I read, traveled, thought and wrote. I communicated with the world, as only writers and readers communicate.

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