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.
This was a slim volume with so much depth and weight to it. It’s only sixty-four pages, but when I finished I felt like I was a better person for reading it.
Non-fiction memoir pieces always feel like an intimate read, but Gratitude had the added layer that it was written about Sacks dying and I read it after he was dead. That’s a bit of a loaded gun for a book, no matter the length. But the essays never felt like they were over the top or self-indulgence. They were simply a telling by a man who knew that pretty soon there would be no more tales for him, real or not.
Sacks approaches his illness and the fact that it has lessened his time on earth with such honesty that sometimes it made my breath catch. Death isn’t an easy subject for most of us, regardless of our age or health. But Sacks tackles it head on, and in such a way that I didn’t feel sorry for him. These essays definitely weren’t a pity-party.
The theme of gratitude that runs through all four essays wasn’t done in a way that hit me over the head. Gratitude was written about as a way you can chose to live your life, and that’s what Sacks did.
Despite the topic and the themes in Gratitude, this was a quiet read. As I’ve already said, nothing was over the top or grandiose about the writing style or the way that the themes were approached. And because of this, I know it’s a book that will stay with me for a long, long time.