I’m sure that some of you are acquainted with the following quote from Oliver Sacks, neurologist and man of science, best known perhaps for his book The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat but also for Awakenings, which became a film starring Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams. His words are in a sense a farewell, encouraging us not to fear our journey into the beyond and I find them deeply moving.
“There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate—the genetic and neural fate—of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death. I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”
I too have often thought of the fact that we are all unique, that when we leave this world we are leaving behind a library, a storehouse of experiences, of knowledge that can only be retained in minimum part if we have written, if we have shared our thoughts with others. Throughout our lives we create a universe within us, and I find it difficult to accept the fact that when we die, it all disappears. Somehow particles of that universe continue to move around us in their orbits, for the mind that created them has left its imprint on us and on our environment.
It was April in 1993. After several months of living in another dimension, of no longer being aware of her grandchildren or of the blossoming daffodils, my mother left this world. I sat outside the door that opened onto the garden and felt she was still there. Perhaps more than ever. I watched a bat swoop around, joined by a smaller one, chasing mosquitoes. In the trees by the gate I could hear the nightingale trill its song, ever quicker until it burst into a rhapsodic finale. The breeze blew softly and every so often I seemed to hear the notes of a Mozart symphony, the only music that kept her company till the end. It will be long before I can get myself to listen to her Mozart again, for the two seem to be one.
As I sit there I too seem to lose my physical being and merge with my surroundings. Yes, my mother loved and was loved, and her love is not something that can simply disappear.
10 thoughts on “Oliver Sacks and My Mother”
That was beautiful Erika. So looking forward to seeing you in a couple of months!
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Oh, Erika, This arrived just in time to settle my frantic, pre-trip self a bit as I’m preparing to reunite with you. I’ve often thought over the years that we are connected in unique ways, and today is further evidence.
I recall our discovery of this unforgettable reflection on gratitude by Oliver Sacks which I believe we discovered while watching together a most wonderful documentary of his life. I love that in your own meditation you have so beautifully coupled his words with thoughts about your mother. I like to think of these two precious beings smiling at the way you have evoked them together here.🥀🥀✍️
We saw the film together and then I managed to track down the quote. Wonderful. Thanks.
Your mother Meta lives on in my heart and mind ❤️
Beautiful! Thank you for sharing, Erika.
Such sensitive and subtle reflections, Erika, as ever. I came across them early this morning and felt privileged to read and hear your thoughts. You remind me about my own parents and how the memory of them lies not only with me but in conversation and exchanges among others in my extended family. People will often say things like “Grandad would love that” or Grandma would say …”. Our unique lives … the impression we make upon others …
A further thought from me, if I may Erika: I went back to my Shimmering Horizons book and looked up my Budapest poem. It ends with these lines:
…. … … In memorium
we think of how they changed our lives,
remember how their lives had swelled the song –
how they themselves
had changed the score forever
even while carrying it on.
How lovely, John. Thanks for bringing it up. We sometimes go on with our own lives and forget those to whom we owe who we are.
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Erika, Mary and I had become followers of Epicurus who taught similar principles. We attended the annual conference to celebrate his birthday in January of each year. I even presented a couple of papers – in Greek, of course, which apparently impressed the audience to hear an American speaking Greek. Subsequent research has established that Epicurus also understood very well the need to confront the consciousness of death before seeking happiness in his Garden. This would be something of great importance in understanding what motivates the power-hungry individuals who make our world such a horrible place that it is, always at war, always killing people and investing billions of dollars in weapons of mass murder, as Eisenhauer also warned in 1960.
Erika, thank you for introducing me to Oliver Sacks and for your incredible vulnerability in this post. I’ve read it over and over again, and still find it just as beautiful and intimate as the first time that I read it. Forever grateful for you and your words. xoxo