I just saw on Facebook that Oliver Sacks, the very famous neurologist, and a family member of my step grandfather, has passed away at the age of 82. I cried and I thought, “Why am I crying? Sacks clearly expressed no remorse in reaching the end of his life.” How glorgious to live a life you can feel fulfilled by at the end of it…
But I still felt sad and realized I’m not crying for Dr. Oliver Sacks. I am sad for us, for losing a sweet voice in this world.
When I was 18, I signed up to do national service in my dear country Israel. Unfortunately, in the middle of the year, I was unhappy enough in my position that I decided to look for something else. In Jerusalem, where I was determined to stay, the only open national service position I could find in the middle of the year was working one on one with autistic children. With absolutely no training I was welcomed into my new position. And so all I could do was read. I acquired two books, one of which was An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks. His uniquely readable medical writing was a Godsend and helped give me insight into the peculiar world of autism.
I never met Oliver Sacks in person, though my grandmother did since she was married to one of his cousins, but there was an endearing air about him, even from afar..
For one, he always seemed to just be who he was. He wrote his popular medical stories which probably got some criticism from his colleagues. And later on he’d make these cute little videos or write articles just sharing some thoughts with the world. He never seemed to be trying to be anything in particular besides whoever he was.
And as a result he was another thing I admired in him and that was normal. At least in his writing and short videos which you can find on YouTube, he was the most regular, down to earth genius you might ever not meet. He shared thoughts about regular things, deeper things but all just relatable human things.
Finally, from the little I got to know him from a distance, he never seemed to be afraid. He had a sense of purpose and worked towards them. It wasn’t only death he seemed unafraid of, but of living life too.
I may be reading into Sacks’ life and psyche but these are things I perceived in him from afar. It is an inspiration to have the example of a genius who, I imagine, one could look at in the eye and not be concerned about being in the presence of greatness. He was something great but I don’t know if he ever saw himself as more than just a regular human who seemed to love humans, and was happy to help others with his skills and unique mind, forging forwards as simply himself.
May we continue to be inspired by you, Dr. Oliver Sacks. Rest peacefully.
Photo source: © Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons