Lifestyle and Relationships

Reflections on ‘When breath becomes air’

When’s the last time you read a book that made you cry?

It’s 10.04 PM on September 12. Water droplets are inching along the wide glass window, as the rain pours down. I am on a train heading from London to York. I’ve just completed the book “When Breath Becomes Air,” by Paul Kalanithi. I purchased the book a year ago, but only just found the time to read it. I am left thinking about my own mortality, with tears in my eyes.

Paul was a neurosurgeon and well on track to becoming a neuroscientist. He was at the peak of his career, having received numerous awards and always being the top candidate for any job to which he had applied. Paul was married to Lucy. He was dealing with some severe back pains, then developed a persistent cough. Paul was diagnosed with cancer.

Over 2 years, they tried different treatments, he had some success, he and Lucy decided to have a baby, and then the cancer stopped responding to treatment. During the time, Paul started writing. His daughter, Cady, was born. Eight months later, in a room surrounded by his family, he died, before he finished the book. The manuscript, as he left it, was just enough. That was his story. It’s less about injecting pathos, and more about telling a true story, musings on mortality.

We will all die someday, but will we face death with integrity? In the end, it will be family and community that matter most. The cherished friends will visit your grave to pour whiskey, wine, rum or tea (in my case). What will be your legacy? The truth is, we will never have enough time to do everything or learn everything. Yet, the time we have can be just enough to make a beautiful impact on someone else’s life, to be kind, to love and leave a legacy of love.

“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.”

“Everyone succumbs to finitude. I suspect I am not the only one who reaches this pluperfect state. Most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned; either way, they belong to the past. The future, instead of the ladder toward the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present. Money, status, all the vanities the preacher of Ecclesiastes described hold so little interest: a chasing after wind, indeed.”

If you had one year to live, what would you really do? Love. Forgive. Cherish.

Outside of a living organism, there is no such thing as breath; there’s air. When your own breath ceases to exist and all is left is air, what will your story be? What footprints will you leave?

Time, for all of us, is finite.

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