You’ve probably read and heard umpteen remembrances of Dr. Oliver Sacks by now, and it’s only a day after his passing. The groundswell of mourning, even among those of us who never saw him in person, is a testament to his gifts. He was not only a scientist and physician of neurology, but passionate and compassionate, eager and humble, healer and patient, patient and restless, a seeker of knowledge and a friend to humanity. He embodied what so many of us wish we could.
Toward the end of his fascinating life, he shared many of his own personal experiences. He expressed his scientific explorations as well as human sensations, and as we got to know his work (about his patients), he began to express his own unusualness. Despite his expertise and stature, his later writings made him all the more human, and relatable. He reminded us that we may not even know that people may experience the world differently in some capacities than we do.
His fascination with so many facets of the natural world, particularly of the brain, was expressed with such enthusiasm and joy that it was contagious. We mourn the loss of such joy and knowledge. The world needs more knowledge and joy, not less.
It was with his sense of joy and pursuit of knowledge that he came to explore neurological conditions, and with his magnificent gift for prose, to express his clinical experiences (and later, his personal experiences) to a lay audience, while educating our hearts and minds. It was not that the extraordinary would seem ordinary, but that we could be introduced to experiences and conditions seemingly far from our own, and feel the humanity and compassion for an other. The bizarre was no longer hidden, but “awakened” for us.
We may be blessed enough to not have such neurological disorders in our lives, or we may recognize that disorders may arise in some other fashion in our lives. We may be caregivers or incapacitated ourselves at some other time. The introduction to that which is so different from our experience thus far, has far reaching implications.
We have seen social changes that were unthinkable two generations ago. What is considered bizarre, changes. How we include and care for those who struggle to function says much about us. Many struggle much more than we may realize. The “bizarre” may be hidden—at least temporarily. Or, the bizarre may burst forth and we must learn to pursue knowledge over fear.
Easier said than done, of course, but Dr. Sacks, gently and brilliantly had us become acquainted with not only neurological disorders and personal distresses, but took us into the world beyond our own. Ultimately, it’s all our world. Nature has so many facets to explore and from which to learn that may, in turn, increase our ability to impact other conditions. The more knowledge we can acquire about the natural world and make connections, the more we can affect positive change.
Dr Oliver Sacks seemed as unique as his case studies, but for many different reasons. Ultimately though, even his case studies and his personal seemingly unconventional experiences, were oh-so- human. Oliver! Consider yourself one of us!
And that’s the precious part. He was a gifted doctor and writer and educator, who relentlessly pursued knowledge and shared his joy and knowledge. He was generous of spirit and through his sharing, connected not just ideas, but souls. I may only wish I had his prodigious gifts of heart and mind—those that seem to separate the extraordinary from the ordinary, but despite those differences, like the differences he wrote about, we’re all facets of nature. Truly extraordinary.