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February 19, 2015

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Alas.

It happens.

Sorry to hear this.

Sacks is a very interesting guy, very thoughtful and a really good writer. Apparently, also a hell of a physician.

81 is a pretty good run, but we'd always like a little more.

As a stray thought, it occurs to me that there are a lot of physicians who are good writers.

Oliver Sacks is that rare genuine Mensch, neither uber- nor unter-.

An intuitive diagnostician of the human condition like other physician/writers ... Anton Chekhov and Walker Percy are two that come to mind.

This:

"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 ..."

Sacks is nearly 20 years my senior but I increasingly think to myself why wait for the final prognosis to focus on the essential. I cut the NewsHour long ago, but obviously I find other ways to marinate in the dissipating juices of the non-essential world.

Get the reading done, chase down the remaining fly balls to the fence, cook a meal for someone close ...

And ...

"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."

Exquisitely sentient, in the sense of a fully engaged, feeling consciousness among other similar beings.

Exemplary life .. and his death (he ain't dead yet) will be similarly instructional, though I find the thought repellant.

I've no idea of Sacks' attitude regarding suicide, but it's too bad he couldn't have stepped out from behind a potted plant in Robin Williams' (he played Sacks in he movie) home at the latter's time of extremis and had a brief listen with a palpating hand (in the sense of locating the source of the pain) on Williams' shoulder.

Might have changed the nature of that sad end.

The thing I love most about Sacks is his ability to bring extraordinary, extreme, difficult human experiences and states within reach of common understanding and acceptance.

You think your wife's head is a hat? You've been asleep for years, and suddenly you're awake? You overindulged in recreational pharma and suddenly your sense of smell is acute as that of a bloodhound?

OK, we'll work with that. No worries.

And, not only will we work with that, I'll make it accessible to the average reader, not as some freakish sideshow spectacle, but with empathy, and as an example of the basic and universal experience of being a human in the world.

A really remarkable guy. I'm glad we've had him this long.

Yes, amazing. Of course Oliver Sacks's own writing is must-read, but The Echo Maker, by Richard Powers, in which one of the main characters is based on Sacks, is a beautiful tribute.

Following up on what Russell says, Awakenings was not only the Robin Williams/Robert De Niro movie, but also a play. I've never seen it, but I remember Sacks writing essentially a paragraph or two about the different actors playing people who he knew were very dissimilar from the original inspiration. Many, perhaps most, people would be upset at how an actor does not comply with their particular image of what that character should be, something that is made more intense when you somehow 'own' that character, either through having created them or having them in your memory. Sacks' discussion centers on the amazement of how actors who, from the outside, look/are totally different can come to inhabit the characters. As Russell notes, that he can look past differences to get at our commonalities is where his voice gets its power and resonance.

Among doctors as fine writers, include Jose Rizal, ophthalmologist and revolutionary, still regarded as the finest Filipino novelist. (Dr. Sun Yat-sen was also good at revolution, not so great a writer.)

I've been a longtime lurker, admired but never felt I had anything very much to contribute. However, I'm breaking cover to say that anyone who has enjoyed or is particularly interested in Oliver Sacks's work should definitely look at Into the Silent Land: Travels in Neuropsychology by Paul Broks. It's a fascinating and well-written book, and although it has an (acknowledged) debt to Sacks, it's well worth reading in its own right

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