Dr. Sacks told me great stories, stories of love, frustration and wonder, though we never met.
It’s hard saying goodbye to an idol, because it makes them human. It means they are finite, just like everything else in life. Yet as the idols they are, the mere thought of them coping with death is a fascinating exercise in itself: what will my idol do? Will he or she hold up or spiral out of control? How will death treat my idol? Dr. Sacks was no exception to those questions.
I read the first of his books when I came upon a small compendium of his works, titled Vintage Sacks. It seemed to play hide and seek with me, lurking behind the massive best-sellers and self-help books. Sacks has always been hard to categorize, as his most medically-focused articles can be as luring and fascinating as a short story or a novel. I picked up the book and read it on my way home, yearning for more stories.
From then on, my fascination began and, thanks to technology, many of his books I could read through my Kindle. Awakenings and Uncle Tungsten were the first. I felt drawn by the words he used to describe the mathematical–and fantastical–space patients created: Parkinsonian time and space. Like a horror movie, I was scared but drawn at the same into getting to know this world. Then Uncle Tungsten showed me that he too struggled in school, while sinking himself further and further into the world of chemistry–one he managed to turn into an adventure. Mind you, a lot of the talent of an individual is to make everyday topics seem interesting.
Then An Anthropologist in Mars and The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, besides being the best Christmas presents that year, confirmed what I always believed; our mind is more a mystery than a given fact. The greatest minds, no pun intended, have difficulty understanding it. Ironically, that same mystery sparked my own personal intrigue to comprehend what really went on beneath my sleepwalking.
But it wasn’t really his books. It was, instead, the worlds he created in them. Even his articles had a way of carrying one into a seat just next to him. Few people are willing to consume heavy hallucinogenic drugs just to understand their patients better. Less actually come clean about being unable do fully help a patient, instead admitting defeat to the power of a desolate chapel in the hospital. Even fewer would stand at the face of death and speak to it in such a way that it stopped appearing as something frightening.
When he was diagnosed with metastatic tumors, he said he’d live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can. And I always wondered why the rest of us have to wait for something like that to happen to us to take his advice and follow it. We’ve always been reactive instead of proactive, save a few individuals who dare break the norm. Even sending him a letter seemed daunting, but I did it anyway. When his assistant replied, feelings were indescribable.
It was his relentless passion for everything in life that made him worthy of timeless tributes in death. So in saying farewell to an individual like Dr. Sacks, we have a chance to say hello to others who have not lived this way. There is always time, even if we have little, to live life and to spark that desire in someone else, perhaps the Doctor’s most valuable accomplishment.