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4 Oliver Sacks Quotes On Gratitude

"I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written."
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NEW YORK, NY - MAY 31:  Dr. Oliver Sacks speaks at the 'Music & the Brain' presentation at the Abyssinian Church at the World Science Festival on May 31, 2008 in New York City.  (Photo by Thos Robinson/Getty Images for World Science Festival)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 31: Dr. Oliver Sacks speaks at the 'Music & the Brain' presentation at the Abyssinian Church at the World Science Festival on May 31, 2008 in New York City. (Photo by Thos Robinson/Getty Images for World Science Festival)

Before his death in August, neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote a number of elegant essays about what it meant to him to know he was nearing the end of his life. In those writings, a theme emerged: gratitude. Sacks expressed gratefulness for his work, for the people in his life -- including the many patients he became close with -- and for the beauty of the physical world. In a new book, Gratitude, which will be published on Tuesday, those essays appear together in a lovely slim volume.

Here are just a few of Sacks's musings on gratitude, appropriately published this Thanksgiving week.

On the first time he believed death was near:

I thought I would die at 41, when I had a bad fall and broke a leg while mountaineering alone. I splinted the leg as best I could and started to lever myself down the mountain, clumsily, with my arms. In the long hours that followed, I was assailed by memories, both good and bad. Most were in a mode of gratitude -- gratitude for what I had been given by others, gratitude too that I had been able to give something back.

On the simple perfection of pleasant weather:

At nearly 80, with a scattering of medical and surgical problems, none disabling, I feel glad to be alive -- "I'm glad I'm not dead!" sometimes bursts out of me when the weather is perfect. (This is in contrast to a story I heard from a friend who, walking with Samuel Beckett in Paris on a perfect spring morning, said to him, "Doesn't a day like this make you glad to be alive?" to which Beckett answered, "I wouldn't go as far as that.") I am grateful that I have experienced many things -- some wonderful, some horrible -- and that I have been able to write a dozen books, to receive innumerable letters from friends, colleagues, and readers, and to enjoy what Nathaniel Hawthorne called 'an intercourse with the world.'

On the joy of being a writer and reader:

I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and an adventure.

On the beauty of the natural world, after a night staring at a starry sky:

I have been comforted, since I wrote in February about having metastatic cancer, by the hundreds of letters I have received, the expressions of love and appreciation, and the sense that (despite everything) I may have lived a good and useful life. I remain very glad and grateful for all this -- yet none of it hits me as did that night sky full of stars.

Also on HuffPost:

Happiness: A Natural Phenomenon