let it be this one: When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi.
It received all the accolades our society can give a book.*
As for me, I listened to the book while working on “Respect” quilt no. 4. I’m doing the tie-quilting now, a slow laborious task conducive to peaceful reflection. In listening to the words of When Breath Becomes Air, I felt like I was sitting next to a dear wise friend who, just like me, was searching in literature–ancient and less so–for guidance on living a good life. A life that means something in the big scheme of things, at least such as a human can do. Paul Kalanithi loved English literature deeply and studied Walt Whitman, T.S. Eliot and cites their beautiful words throughout this book. He also cites authors I’ve never heard anyone cite, but who are dear to me, like Osler, a famed doctor whose book (pub. 1919) I discovered during 2016-18, while mentally preparing myself to depart from the university, the only identity I’d ever known.
If you seek wisdom about how to live life with integrity, in poetic and philosophical prose, if you wonder how to face death, and don’t mind receiving technical knowledge about how lung cancer makes its way through the human body (useful, but not really a genre I’d seek out), read Paul Kalanithi’s book, When Breath Becomes Air.
Or listen to it, as I did. I think I’ll do so again some day. I bought the book too; it will likely arrive in a couple weeks. I look forward to the book arriving here in my home. When I see it, I will feel reassured, knowing he is there and I can visit his mind again, for times when I feel sad or alone or meaningless. He died at age 37, and I’m still here in my sixth decade. Pretty lucky.
In the meantime, I went back to Osler this morning and found this quote, my farewell for now to you, dear reader. Remember Osler was writing in 1919:
“Let us not be discouraged. … If survived, a terrible infection, such as confluent small-pox, seems to benefit the general health. Perhaps such an attack through which we have passed may benefit the body cosmic. … Plato concludes that ‘States are as the men are, they grow out of human characters’ (Rep. VIII), and then, as the dream-republic approached completion, he realized that after all the true State is within, of which each one of us is the founder, and patterned on an ideal the existence of which matters not a whit. Is not the need of this individual reconstruction the Greek message to modern democracy? and with it is blended the note of individual service to the community.”**
P.S. Thank you Seattle Public Library for the audiobooks service!
* It was a New York Times bestseller, spending 68 weeks on the non-fiction bestseller list at publication in 2016. Matt McCarthy of USA Today gave it 4 out of 4 stars and said, “It’s a story so remarkable, so stunning, and so affecting that I had to take dozens of breaks just to compose myself enough to get through it.” Nick Romeo of The Boston Globe wrote that it, “possesses the gravity and wisdom of an ancient Greek tragedy.” Melissa Maerz of Entertainment Weekly stated that the book was “so original—and so devastating. . . . Its only fault is that the book, like his life, ends much too early.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/When_Breath_Becomes_Air
** Sir William Osler, “Old Humanities and New Science,” pp. 96-97. see “Favorite Books” on this blog.