I’ve never been one to succumb to hero-worship. Sure, as a child, and even as an impressionable young adult, I’ve had crushes on some people to whom I’ve looked up. But, until yesterday, I don’t think I’ve ever observed someone – or something they’ve accomplished – and said, “My God, I wish I could be like that.”
A couple of posts ago I referenced the book, When Breath Becomes Air. Yesterday, I finished reading that book. Now, I haven’t read a lot on cancer or, more specifically, cancer and death. In fact, most of my reading on the subject is limited to other cancer-related blogs. This book, by Paul Kalanithi, took my breath away.
First, the man clearly was a genius. He made it through what is, I assume, one of the most rigorous medical training programs in the world: becoming a neurosurgeon. His education
was not simply “limited” to his area of expertise. It is immediately obvious that Kalanithi is a big thinker, the kind of person who gets to ask – and then answer – some of life’s biggest questions. His education isn’t only medical, and he finds a way, in just a few short years, to bring together tremendously deep philosophical thinking, pairing it with the most intricate, hands-on medical treatment.
Second, although Kalanithi and I are worlds apart and his ability with the pen far surpasses mine (There were whole passages I simply did not understand, either due to his use of language or literary references that were beyond me.), his experiences mirror mine in so many ways. He writes elegantly about terminal illness and, although it’s completely expected, his death took me by surprise. (His wife completed the manuscript.)
Third, his drive to complete his oeuvre is clearly a large part of what sustains him, and he allows nothing to stand in his way. He purportedly used silver-lined gloves when his fingers hurt too much from treatment (I used the eraser ends of pencils.). This is a man with drive, something we can all admire and appreciate.
I urge you to read When Breath Becomes Air. It will be hard, especially at the end. But I think it will do much to help provide you with a perspective on what I – and all terminally ill cancer patients? – think about on a daily basis.