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Anorak | Oliver Sacks: old age is a time of freedom and exploration

Oliver Sacks: old age is a time of freedom and exploration

by | 9th, July 2013

PA 6593662 Oliver Sacks: old age is a time of freedom and exploration

A FRIEND in her mid-40s recently opined that she would like to live no longer than 74 years. After that, she said life is too miserable to endure.

Oliver Sacks says she’s mad:

Last night I dreamed about mercury — huge, shining globules of quicksilver rising and falling. Mercury is element number 80, and my dream is a reminder that on Tuesday, I will be 80 myself

Elements and birthdays have been intertwined for me since boyhood, when I learned about atomic numbers. At 11, I could say “I am sodium” (Element 11), and now at 79, I am gold. A few years ago, when I gave a friend a bottle of mercury for his 80th birthday — a special bottle that could neither leak nor break — he gave me a peculiar look, but later sent me a charming letter in which he joked, “I take a little every morning for my health.”…

I feel I should be trying to complete my life, whatever “completing a life” means. Some of my patients in their 90s or 100s say nunc dimittis — “I have had a full life, and now I am ready to go.” …

I can imagine, feel in my bones, what a century is like, which I could not do when I was 40 or 60. I do not think of old age as an ever grimmer time that one must somehow endure and make the best of, but as a time of leisure and freedom, freed from the factitious urgencies of earlier days, free to explore whatever I wish, and to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together.

I am looking forward to being 80.

Oliver Sacks is a professor of neurology at the N.Y.U. School of Medicine and the author, most recently, of “Hallucinations.”

Oliver Sacks is an author and professor of neurology at the N.Y.U. School of Medicine.

Photo: Dr. Oliver Sacks is made a CBE by The Queen at Buckingham Palace.PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday November 26, 2008. 



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