A Sobering Experience
I went to my computer to post weekly grades for the two online class that I was teaching. After I finished and closed the school's link, I happened to notice this photo on MSNBC's news website.
I instantly recognized Dr. Oliver Sacks, who is someone about whom I have written many times. He is one of a long list of people who have danced with death and successfully lead death as they have danced. However, the news bulletin stunned me. He had just died. I sat there for several minutes attempting to allow my brain to process that headline.
Why was Sacks' death any different from anyone else's death? Granted, it was tragic. However, the feelings that floated through my mind were almost personal. It rattled me. Even though I had never met Sacks, it was like a brother passing. I wrestled with my feelings. It was as if a rug had been pulled out from beneath me.
Interestingly, I called GiGi in Buena Vista, GA to tell her about Sacks' passing. I expressed my feelings of loss. I told her that he was one of the more than a dozen people who I have written about that have danced with death. I went on about my personal feelings of loss.
Then GiGi asked her Socratic question, which she always does when we talk. "What was unique about Sacks over all the others?" Then it hit me, all the others had been dead for years and, in some cases, for over several centuries. Sacks was the only one that I wrote about that was actively dancing with death. The others were in the past; he was in the present. And now, he was gone. That was the reason for my unsettling feeling. I was grieving a person, who the day before was alive and is now gone. Sacks was a person and not a name in a history book.
GiGi then inquires as she does often with a pensive, "And...?" I replied that I identified with Sacks, because I also have danced with death. In some way, it was reassuring that he was alive. Sacks' death forced me to see his finality and hence my own. All dances ultimately will end. I knew that at one level. Nonetheless, that reality came crashing down upon me at another level of understanding. There will be a time that my dance with death will be my last dance also.
Man, that reality hit home! Dealing with Sacks' death in some ways hit me emotionally more than my own two dances. With the prostate cancer, I had the surgery as an outpatient and went immediately back to work. The other dance due to a traumatic brain injury was different. For the first month, I do not recall a moment even though I talked with my family every day. Therefore, both dances seemed unreal experiences. Neither dance was initially a typical type of dance.
That is the reason why Sacks' death rattled me emotionally. About an hour after reading of his death, I wrote this and posted it on Facebook.
I included those two paragraphs in this essay to show you my attempt at begin the process of dealing with his death. Nevertheless, those two antiseptic paragraphs provided information...details. They did not address my personal angst. However, I addressed my emotional apprehension while talking with GiGi.
Therefore, for the next several days, I began addressing my uneasy feelings. The following is an outline of that process:
Those statistics, while merely averages for a person my age, produce two responses from me. I have over a dozen years to live and be productive. However, I see clearly that I am not immortal, which is true for all those people who dance with death and the rest of the population of the world.
This is a link to Dr. Sacks' website: http://www.oliversacks.com/
Visit the On Seeing the Light page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Connecting the Dots page to read more about this topic.
Visit the The Last Lecture page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Dancing with Death page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Man in the Arena page to read more about this topic.
Visit the GiGi page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Best and Worst of Times page to read more about this topic.