Sunday, January 31, 2016

BOOKS | "The bad news is that I haven't written anything"

I finished reading Paul Kalanithi's When Breath Becomes Air this afternoon. Before this, some of my ex-colleagues were talking about the book, and I was curious when they seem to think they would cry buckets reading it, even before they had even started on the book. Why do they assume that? I wondered.

The author was a neurosurgeon who discovered he had lung cancer when he was in the 30s. Faced with the prospect of death, he began writing this book. He passed away before he could finish the book, and his wife, Lucy, ended it with an afterword.

It was a contemplative read. Kalanithi was a man of the arts and the sciences. I admired his insights, his questions, and how he truly believed in making meaning of his life's work.
I was driven less by achievement than by trying to understand, in earnest: What makes human life meaningful? I still felt literature provided the best account of the life of the mind, while neuroscience laid down the most elegant rules of the brain. Meaning, while a slippery concept, seemed inextricable from human relationships and moral values. 
Paul Kalanithi was truly an amazing man. A brilliant neurosurgeon, a kind man, and someone who could recite the poems of T.S. Eliot from memory. It should not have to take a medical emergency to force us to examine the meaning of our lives, yet most of the time, that's what is necessary. While reading the book, it does in a way lead me to consider how I am using the time in my own life, and those important questions. It was beautifully summed up in Lucy's afterword:
When Paul emailed his best friend in May 2013 to inform him that he had terminal cancer, he wrote, "The good news is I've already outlived two Brontes, Keats, and Stephen Crane. The bad news is that I haven't written anything." 
It is not just about how long you have lived - but what have you done. Time to start writing.


No comments: