A Must Read: ‘Gratitude’ by Oliver Sacks

A deeply moving testimony and celebration of how to embrace life.

In January 2015, Oliver Sacks was diagnosed with a recurrence of cancer, and he shared this news in a New York Times essay that inspired readers all over the world: “I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude…. 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.”

Gratitude consists of four essays that originally appeared in The New York Times, accompanied by a foreword that describes the occasion of each chapter. The foreword is written by Billy Hayes, Oliver Sacks’s partner, and Kate Edgar, his long time collaborator.


‘I have been increasingly conscious, for the last ten years or so, of deaths among my contemporaries. My generation is on the way out, and each death I have felt as an abruption, a tearing away of part of myself.  There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever.  When people die, they cannot be replaced.  They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate – the genetic and neural fate – of every human being to be unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.

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 word, the special intercourse of writers and readers.’

‘Gratitude’ can’t be coming at a better time.  Oliver Sacks quietly passed away this past August leaving behind work that is truly a legacy of grand proportions.  When you feel you could be doing more – look up Sacks bio online and it will clearly encourage you to make better use of your time.

This is the same man who wrote ‘Awakenings’ – thus ‘becoming a storyteller at a time when medical narrative was almost extinct’.  A true punk rock literary trailblazer.  I was so inspired by his journey growing up.  Imagine pushing your chosen career even further into a realm that no one else is doing?  Chugging hoot spa and dare-devilness – that will make a uni student swoon.

I read ‘Gratitude’ in twenty minutes and I wept tears that I have been holding in since December 13, 2014.  Tears that streamed from my face and rested on my nightgown as souvenirs of some unresolved grief.  Sacks had that special talent as a neurologist to probe out the pain in a controlled and restorative fashion.  I needed it.

This year has not been an easy one for me as I’ve said before.  My dad is ill; my home needed some work along with a grocery list of other ongoing issues.  I’m now on a 2 week staycation break which I am trying my best to stay quiet, rest and truly feel gratitude for what I have and what I have been through.  I am grateful.  It’ not easy to see the sun between clouds let me tell you.

Sacks last work ‘Gratitude’ is hardly laden with depressive woes.  Instead it pinpoints significant moments in his life (coming out to his parents, living an open life in California and reflecting on the humbling tones within the periodic table) that has made him leaving behind a life full of appreciation.  I’m taking a lot from the slim book that is ‘Gratitude’.  Most importantly a few things shine through for me.

What are they?

Being as present as possible in my life at all times especially during my days at work, travelling and times spent with family and mates.

Enveloping myself with as much love and beauty that the world shows me on a daily basis.  To truly see it, smell it, experience it and cherish it whole heatedly.  These moments may never come back to us.

Lastly, to say thank you to my day when I wake up and before I go to bed every day.

Buy this book!  Give it to everyone you know for the holidays!



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