Earlier this year, Oliver Sacks (81 years old), who is a British neurologist, writer, and amateur chemist who is Professor of Neurology at New York University School of Medicine, was told that he has multiple metastases in his liver. I am not a medical expert, but from the article I read, this is not something you want. I read his article, My Own Life on the online page of NY Times, and it put things in perspective for me.
How to live a life that makes a difference has been a recurring theme for me since last year. We, as a family, have been searching for a simpler life, a life less cluttered with things and to-do lists. A life full of memories. A life lived passionately. It is no coincidence then, that I ‘discovered’ this article a man has written at the approaching end of his life.
He writes, ‘It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me. I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can.” He continues to write about the encouragement he gets from the words of the philosopher, David Hume when the latter learnt that he too did not have long to live. He goes on to echo the words of the philosopher when he writes, “It is difficult, to be more detached from life than I am at present.” He explains how he has been able to see his life from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts.
Dr Sacks explains how he feels intensely alive, how he hopes to deepen his friendships, say farewell to those he love, to write more, continue travelling if his health allows for it and importantly to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.
But, is was the following sentences that made me take notice a bit more, because it resonated so deeply within me. He wrote, ‘I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at “NewsHour” every night. I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming.
This is not indifference but detachment — I still care deeply about the Middle East, about global warming, about growing inequality, but these are no longer my business; they belong to the future…..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.”
We must never forget that we make a contribution. That we ARE a contribution. Most of you are familiar with the story of the girl and the starfish. She was surrounded by the starfish and how she threw them back into the sea, one by one. She was confronted by a person who felt overwhelmed by the perceived obstacles that he saw. ‘“You will never be able to save them all, there are just too many,’ he mocked her. Smiling she bent down, and serenely she said, “It certainly makes a difference to this one.”
Please note, that she wasn’t in a hurry, she wasn’t panicked. She was focused on the one at her feet. There is no note of the success rate she achieved, not a mention of how many survived before and after being thrown back into the sea. There is only mention about her understanding that her contribution was to throw them back. That was the role she had to play.
This week I had to realise that I am not in charge of other people’s lives. That I can only make the contribution that is true to who I am. (Those who follow my blog are welcome to go and read my ‘Ek bedank’ piece.)
I want to encourage you as jobseekers – You already make a contribution there where you are. Should you be looking for another job, a new job, a job if you are unemployed, you are already valuable in the current situation you find yourself in. Sometimes you have to stand still and understand that you are making a contribution. Don’t see the obstacles that stand in your way. See the contribution you have made – get rid of what is NOT ESSENTIAL. You are irreplaceable.