Most of us shy away from death. We do the bare minimum and acknowledge that one day we'll deal with it, but until that very day we do whatever we can to banish the thought. I'm no different and surprisingly enough neither are the people that work long, hard hours everyday fighting death, observing death.
Yesterday I finished a book called When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, a 36 year old neurosurgeon-neuroscientist who passed away following stage IV metastatic lung cancer. Going into the book, I'm not sure what I was expecting, emotion for sure, but what it left me with was much more than the sadness I was expecting.
It left me with a bold and inspiring account of confronting death head-on and the importance of not shying away from something that we all experience. More specifically, the book centers around an honest struggle to relinquish control as part of a larger struggle of accepting that death is an impending and necessary process we all must go through. With the book starting out by detailing Kalanithi's career path, the book paints a moving account of someone working strenuously and professionally (to the point of questioning himself whether his approach was too formalist), helping the people possessing the very afflictions he would soon come to experience himself. Kalinithi then takes us through the process of his diagnosis, coming to terms with it and the wider repercussions on his family and career.
Instead of dwelling on death and the negatives that surround it, the book transitions into a passage of Kalanithi's life where he comes to the realisation that figuring out what really matters to him is the most important thing he can do with whatever time he has left. Kalanithi's vulnerable exploration of how his values are changing with the awareness of his mortality leads him to several options he could undertake, continue working, begin writing or solely focus on his family. More than anything, this stage of the book taught me the importance of figuring out what really matters to you in your life given the time you have left and working towards those things, otherwise when all is said and done, what really is the point of life?
I know this writing is terribly structured and probably makes no sense in certain parts, but I'm not going to edit this in any way as this is my first piece of writing and I'm already way over the 200 words. I may come back to this and edit it as it has been such a poignant book to have read. In summary, this book has definitely been one of the most impactful books I've read in my life and it no doubt is one of those books that will require frequent revisiting at different stages throughout my life to remind myself of the thought that we all try to supress; that the lives we live are finite and that a direct approach to this fact will ultimately allow you to live a fuller, happier life.