A (Healing) Letter to Oliver Sacks

Dear Dr. Sacks,

When I read about your final rest after your fight with cancer, I wished I could have asked you so many questions.

This desire to talk with you started in July when I came across your beautiful “Periodic Table” essay. I thought about your Milton-sky “powdered with stars,” and I wondered: Even though you have been stirred to embrace physical science in the more stressful times of your life, you then have also been able to write about these sciences so accessibly and movingly. Why?

What do you think writing brought you? Did it lead to emotional healing in your past? And recently, did reflecting on your cancer allow you to experience a better quality of life—even as you contemplated being near that life’s end? I wish I could ask you now how much the writing of your life has been cathartic to you.

That it has been cathartic is evident. But the cost to you of writing through your cancer these last few months is something I know nothing about. I haven’t experienced what it feels to be nauseous all day, or to suddenly get very tired, or to look down a tunnel at my next birthday and not believe I will reach that end.

But I do know what it is to feel words. Words that are shaped exquisitely and meaningfully are words that heal. And you have brought so much healing to others through the writing you have shared with us.

Thank you for your willingness to “bear witness” to what you have seen and learned. Thank you for your kindness to all of us who have read your essays and books, because through them, you opened to us your walk toward the unknown.

Thank you for reminding us, even in your last days, that by asking questions—and through the pursuit of answers—we, too, can “bear witness.”

And when my end comes, I hope I will find the same Sabbath you have written of: “that in the seventh day of one’s life, when one can feel that one’s work is done, one may, in good conscience, rest.”

I wonder how writing brought you healing, even through dying. But I don’t wonder at the healing your words have brought to us who have read them. It is because of you, Dr. Oliver Sacks, that although we are not less afraid, we have become more brave.

Sara Whitestone

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