Today is Day 30 of my Happiness Hacks series.
Few things make me happier than some uninterrupted reading time, and an inspirational book makes for an especially amazing reading binge.
While there was quite a bit of background noise (TV, people talking, rain falling hard outside) this weekend at our get-away, I was able to block out the distractions long enough to read Paul Kalanithi’s memoir, When Breath Becomes Air.
In early 2014, I read Kalanithi’s NY Times article, How Long Have I Got Left? I couldn’t get his story out of my mind after reading that article, and I knew I had to read his memoir, which came out at the beginning of this year, almost one year after Kalanithi’s death in March, 2015.
While the premise of the book sounds extremely sad – a young, promising neurosurgeon chronicling his journey with terminal cancer – the book itself is actually very thought-provoking and inspiring. His voice, which comes through so clearly, is one of thoughtful reflection on the meaning of life and death and of the relationships between doctors and patients. Kalanithi’s unique perspective as one who was passionate about both literature and neuroscience, and had experienced being both doctor and patient, gave him a unique perspective. This was a very human, relatable book written by an extremely knowledgeable and thoughtful soul.
He kept asking how long he had left, even though as a physician he knew no one could – or should – give him a definitive answer. He wanted to know how much time he had because he had different life choices depending on his remaining time. The neuroscience research he had dreamed of doing would take too long (20 years), so he ruled that out. He knew that if he only had one year left, he wanted to write. He also wanted to become a father.
We’re often reminded to “live each day as if it’s our last,” because it very well could be, but how many of us actually do live that way? Kalanithi did.
His words inspired me to brainstorm my own “one year left” list. My list included: spend time with my people, see and experience beautiful places and things (sunsets, beaches, mountains, babies), and write words for my kids.
In talking about his choice of career, an extremely difficult, demanding one, Kalanithi says, “Putting lifestyle first is how you find a job, not a calling.”
In his reflections on coming back to his faith, Kalanithi reflects, “Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete. And Truth comes somewhere above all of them.”
I am still thinking about Kalanithi, his wife Lucy (who was by his side throughout his illness and death), and their daughter Cady. I am thankful for my reading time and Kalanithi’s inspirational writing. Even though the book made me cry, I feel inspired by Kalanithi’s life, wisdom, and courage.