Sunday, January 17, 2016

When Breath Becomes Air

A book by Paul Kalanithi -  He’s a very successful neurosurgeon and at 36 is diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Today I’m reading about this book in Brain Pickings Weekly – a wonderful blog by Maria Popova.  Each week she posts this compendium of really thought-provoking excerpts .
Today, this, commenting on Kalanithi’s book:
“Like the book itself, the anecdote speaks to something larger and far more powerful than the particular story — in this case, our cultural attitude toward what we consider the failings of our bodies: pain and, in the ultimate extreme, death. We try to dictate the terms on which these perceived failings may occur; to make them conform to wished-for realities; to subvert them by will and witless denial. All this we do because, at bottom, we deem them impermissible — in ourselves and in each other. “
And  this:
“Punctuating Kalanithi’s story are vignettes of those small yet enormous moments in which destinies pivot and the elaborate universe of priorities we’ve spent a lifetime constructing combusts into stardust. In those moments, there is a violent slamming shut of chapters we had naïvely thought would go on and on, leading to Happily Ever After and yet somehow not really ending there, for the endings we imagine for ourselves aren’t really endings. An ending is devastating and unsatisfying in its finitude, and the endings we imagine for ourselves are permanent states of ongoing, infinite satisfaction. “
That image – the violent slamming shut of chapters we had naively thought would go on and on –
That made me think of chapters in my life that shut but didn’t slam, but that shut nonetheless.
Simple doors that shut:  I have closed the door on riding a bicycle, on swimming, on eating nuts and fresh fruit.  To quote Elizabeth Bishop, I’ll miss these things, but it isn’t a disaster.  But it is a closing out of physical activities I took for granted.
I focus on the things I still can do:  bake and garden and watch birds and read and teach and walk and sing and drive a car… so many things. So many doors still open to me.

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