Oliver Sacks received about 10,000 letters a year.
“I invariably reply to people under 10, over 90 or in prison,” he once said.
“I am very tenacious, for better or worse,” he wrote in “A Leg to Stand On.” “If my attention is engaged, I cannot disengage it. This may be a great strength, or weakness. It makes me an investigator. It makes me an obsessional.”
“The thousand and one questions I asked as a child,” he wrote, “were seldom met by impatient or peremptory answers, but careful ones which enthralled me (though they were often above my head). I was encouraged from the start to interrogate, to investigate.”
“I haven’t heard of a human being who isn’t musical, or who doesn’t respond to music one way or another,” he told an audience at Columbia University in 2006. “I think we are an essentially, profoundly musical species. And I don’t know whether [language or music came first] — for all I know, language piggybacked on music.”
Writing takes him to another place, Dr. Sacks says, “where I am totally absorbed and oblivious to distracting thoughts, worries, preoccupations, or indeed the passage of time.”
“In those rare, heavenly states of mind,” he goes on, “I may write nonstop until I can no longer see the paper. Only then do I realize that evening has come, and that I have been writing all day.”
That writing, which Dr. Sacks says gives him a pleasure “unlike any other,” has also been a gift to his readers — of erudition, sympathy and an abiding understanding of the joys, trials and consolations of the human condition.
Referring to Nietzsche’s claim that listening to Bizet had made him a better philosopher, Dr. Sacks said, “I think Mozart makes me a better neurologist.”
On final rest:
“And now, weak, short of breath, my once-firm muscles melted away by cancer, I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life — achieving a sense of peace within oneself. I find my thoughts drifting to the Sabbath, the day of rest, the seventh day of the week, and perhaps the seventh day of one’s life as well, when one can feel that one’s work is done, and one may, in good conscience, rest.”
- I’ve linked to it before, but read more on Oliver Sacks’ thoughts on storytelling on Brain Pickings.
- Quotes above from The New York Times article announcing his death and a review of On The Move
- Read an excerpt from Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, and a review of the book on NYT.
May you rest in peace on this seventh day of life.