“No philosopher can explain the sublime better than this, standing between day and night.” (pg. 34 of When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi)
I just finished reading this fine book, the last written words of a top neurosurgeon who died in his mid-thirties of lung cancer in March of 2015. With a recent scary cat scan of my own lungs in January, you may wonder why I chose to read this book now. I wasn’t sure myself until I read it.
First of all, Kalanithi is obviously a deep thinker, always searching for the meaning in life. In fact as I read I realized he had the opposite reaction than most of us when confronted with such a daunting diagnosis. Most become more emotional, he seemed to become more analytical. This was not my response to my own recent confrontation with death. My response was along the lines of: “Am I proud of my life?”
One aspect of Kalnithi’s story rang very true to me, the way my perception of time has changed so much since we left the city behind with all its traffic and deadlines.
“Everyone succumbs to finitude…Most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned; either way, they belong to the past. The future, instead of the ladder toward the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present. Money, status, all the vanities the preacher of Ecclesiastes described hold so little interest: a chasing after wind, indeed.” (pg. 198)
We are never so wise as when we live in the moment.
I am boundlessly grateful to finally understand the pleasure of living in the present.