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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

Oliver sacks death queen

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.”

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