Our favorite neurologist Oliver Sacks just wrote the most beautiful love letter to his lifelong friend (that would be the Periodic Table of Elements)
There are a lot of Oliver Sacks fans in the world, and with good reason- the neurologist is a genius and a visionary and he has helped demystify the most mystifying inner workings of the human mind with books like The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat and Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain as well as his regular contributions to The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books.
As many of his devotees know, our 82-year old hero has been in poor health. He was diagnosed with an ocular melanoma almost a decade ago, and in February of this year, he wrote a piece for the New York Times explaining that the cancer had spread to his liver and his diagnosis was now terminal.
At the time, as he explained, the diagnosis had prompted him to concentrate on moving forward “in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can.”
“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.”
Sacks has a gorgeous, life-affirming, must-read piece running in this week’s NYT Sunday Review in which he talks about how he has been coping since receiving his diagnosis earlier this year. He explains in the piece that science has always been a good friend to him in times of need.
“I have tended since early boyhood to deal with loss — losing people dear to me — by turning to the nonhuman. When I was sent away to a boarding school as a child of 6, at the outset of the Second World War, numbers became my friends; when I returned to London at 10, the elements and the periodic table became my companions. Times of stress throughout my life have led me to turn, or return, to the physical sciences, a world where there is no life, but also no death.”
He goes on to explain that the elements that helped him deal with tragedy as a child continue to bring him great comfort.
“And now, at this juncture, when death is no longer an abstract concept, but a presence — an all-too-close, not-to-be-denied presence — I am again surrounding myself, as I did when I was a boy, with metals and minerals, little emblems of eternity.”
As stated earlier the piece is a must-read, a tribute and and ode to how the pursuits we devote our life to can be our dearest friends and our greatest source of comfort. We love you Oliver Sacks, and we are so grateful to you for continuing to contribute works of great beauty to the world with the time you have left.