Monday, January 2, 2017

When Breath Becomes Air: Dealing With The Ultimate Certainty

There are books that tugs your emotions. There are books that make you ponder on existence. There are books that adds new perspectives about your dealing with life. Then, there are very few books that achieve all these and more..! One such is When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, who was a neurosurgeon diagnosed with incurable lung cancer. This book is an effort by the author to frame his perspectives about staring on imminent death, with hopes that his experiences may be helpful to others sharing his fate.

The only certainty in an otherwise totally uncertain life- of which we have no idea where it may take us the next moment- is death. But for all of us death is an abstraction, a highly improbable event lurking in a distant, blurred future. It is an evolutionary trait that serves our survival as a species. But what would be our reaction when we get a solid reference of how our death may occur? What will we do with the remaining time that we have? How will we look at our loved ones after that? How will our priorities change?

Paul was a skilled neurosurgeon. He became one as a result of his quest for the meaning of life. His searches in literature and philosophy lead him to his decision that being a neurologist may help him to explore human mind. In his thirties, he believed he had a bright future and was looking forward to a great career. But then the bad news befell. His priorities changed, his outlook changed. This book is about how Paul, without turning cynical, faced his future and created something that have the potential for making the world a better place to live.

Before his diagnosis, his married life was on the verge of collapse. But the news of his terminal illness brought him and his wife Lucy together again. They even decided to have a kid. There is a beautiful and profound love story here, to be found in between pages. Lucy became instrumental in publishing this book after Paul's death and the epilogue written by her makes us appreciate and understand Paul's philosophy and his motives.

What struck me while reading the book was the contrast between two extremely opposite roles that Paul had to don intermittently- that of a doctor and a patient. On one role he was the subject, something to be treated on while one other role he became the doer, who treat other subjects. The book deals considerably on his struggles in balancing these two roles.

His mulling on his future is another important theme that interested me. With every development of his illness, with every recovery and every setback, he has to balance his views about future, alter his priorities and make decisions. He states that if he knew he had three months to live he would spend time with family, if he had a year he would write a book and if he had ten years he would get back to doing surgeries.

When Breath Becomes Air is a phenomenal read because it is a pure exercise in writing.  It is not written for money or fame or not with the intention of an entry in best seller list. It is written with the most basic intention why books are written- to communicate an idea, to tell the world what one has in mind. And this book tells something that is very important in a beautiful manner.

Buy the book:

No comments:

Post a Comment