Monday, February 13, 2017


My friend Linda, who has just turned 71, is beginning to notice all the deaths of people within a single digit of her age. Richard B. Wright, author of Clara Callan, who died Feb. 7 at age 79, for example. "Eight years left. . . note to self: stop doing the math!" she said in an email to me this week.

But then, there are other ways of looking at one's remaining time on earth, and Linda, an inveterate reader, is finding them.

This week, she finished Gratitude, a collection of four short essays by famous neurologist/author Oliver Sacks (Awakenings, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat). He wrote it after learning in early 2015 that he had terminal liver cancer and before his death on Aug. 30, 2015 at age 82. Despite the sadness of the situation, the book is sweet and inspiring, Linda said.

"He writes that his predominant feeling as his life ends is one of gratitude," she said in an email quoting passages from the book:

I have loved and been loved. I have been given much and I have given something in return. 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.

"Sacks takes great comfort in being in water and looking at nature," Linda wrote. "He quotes Milton when he looks at a night sky 'powdered with stars' and asks his friends, if possible, to wheel him out when he is dying so this can be his last sight.

"Sacks is not daunted by old age, but feels like his father, who lived to 94 and said his eighties had been one of the most enjoyable decades in life. And like him, as Sacks approached his own eighties, he began to feel 'not a shrinking but an enlargement of mental life and perspective.

 I do not think of old age as an ever grimmer time that one must somehow endure and make the best of, but as a time of leisure and freedom, freed from the factitious urgencies of earlier days, free to explore whatever I wish and to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together. 

"To me these are comforting words and also relate to what you often do when you write for your blog," Linda concluded.

I like the idea that old age can be a time of leisure and enjoyment, which is how Linda actually lives her retirement years. Joking aside, she knows digits -- single or double -- don't really matter.

1 comment:

  1. Very well said, Linda. I feel very grateful to have lived such a privileged life....and a very important part of that privilege was not having everything. I look forward to reading those essays.