A Great Dancer with Death
A Sobering Experience

I went to my computer to post weekly grades for the two online class that I was teaching.  After I finished and closed the school's link, I happened to notice this photo on MSNBC's news website.

Description: Dr. Oliver Sacks at his home in 2012. (Photo by Christopher Anderson/Magnum)

Dr. Oliver Sacks

I instantly recognized Dr. Oliver Sacks, who is someone about whom I have written many times.  He is one of a long list of people who have danced with death and successfully lead death as they have danced.  However, the news bulletin stunned me.  He had just died.  I sat there for several minutes attempting to allow my brain to process that headline.  

Why was Sacks' death any different from anyone else's death?  Granted, it was tragic.  However, the feelings that floated through my mind were almost personal.  It rattled me.  Even though I had never met Sacks, it was like a brother passing.  I wrestled with my feelings.  It was as if a rug had been pulled out from beneath me. 

Interestingly, I called GiGi in Buena Vista, GA to tell her about Sacks' passing.  I expressed my feelings of loss.  I told her that he was one of the more than a dozen people who I have written about that have danced with death.  I went on about my personal feelings of loss.

Then GiGi asked her Socratic question, which she always does when we talk.  "What was unique about Sacks over all the others?"  Then it hit me, all the others had been dead for years and, in some cases, for over several centuries.  Sacks was the only one that I wrote about that was actively dancing with death.  The others were in the past; he was in the present.  And now, he was gone.  That was the reason for my unsettling feeling.  I was grieving a person, who the day before was alive and is now gone.  Sacks was a person and not a name in a history book.

GiGi then inquires as she does often with a pensive, "And...?"  I replied that I identified with Sacks, because I also have danced with death.  In some way, it was reassuring that he was alive.  Sacks' death forced me to see his finality and hence my own.  All dances ultimately will end.  I knew that at one level.  Nonetheless, that reality came crashing down upon me at another level of understanding.  There will be a time that my dance with death will be my last dance also. 

Man, that reality hit home!  Dealing with Sacks' death in some ways hit me emotionally more than my own two dances.  With the prostate cancer, I had the surgery as an outpatient and went immediately back to work.  The other dance due to a traumatic brain injury was different.  For the first month, I do not recall a moment even though I talked with my family every day.  Therefore, both dances seemed unreal experiences.  Neither dance was initially a typical type of dance. 

That is the reason why Sacks' death rattled me emotionally.  About an hour after reading of his death, I wrote this and posted it on Facebook. 

I was saddened to read that Oliver Sacks died. He was a professor of neurology at NYU School of Medicine. Additionally, he was a noted best-selling writer. However, I admired him due to his honesty regarding his dance with death. He was a courageous person.

I wrote about Sacks several months ago. https://www.wolverton-mountain.com/.../lead-death-as-you-dance-wit... Unless you have danced with death, you will not be able to fully comprehend his insights. Nonetheless, he knew about leading death as they danced.

This is a link to his website: http://www.oliversacks.com/.

I included those two paragraphs in this essay to show you my attempt at begin the process of dealing with his death.  Nevertheless, those two antiseptic paragraphs provided information...details.  They did not address my personal angst.  However, I addressed my emotional apprehension while talking with GiGi.

Therefore, for the next several days, I began addressing my uneasy feelings.  The following is an outline of that process:

  1. I started writing this essay.  The process of writing forces me to explain to outsiders what is occurring within my brain.  It takes the clutter of ideas and feelings, which then is organized into a logical and sequential manner, so that my readers understand my ideas.  However, in the process, I have forced myself to explaining logically what floats in my mind.
  2. I calculated my remaining time.  I went to the Life Expectancy Calculator on the Social Security's website.  This is what Social Security calculated my time let: 


Those statistics, while merely averages for a person my age, produce two responses from me.  I have over a dozen years to live and be productive.  However, I see clearly that I am not immortal, which is true for all those people who dance with death and the rest of the population of the world.

  1. I have to get into a higher gear.  I cannot fiddle away my time with things that mean nothing.  I have my children and grandchildren about whom I care.  I have my students that I teach.  I have people about whom I wish to interview.  I have a broad range of essays that need to be written.  I have places where I wish to visit.  I have people who I want to help.
  2. I need to act today, because there will be a time when I will not have a tomorrow.  I had planned to write to Sacks and to share with him my writing on the dances that I have had.  I wanted to visit him in New York and interview him for my webpage.  Procrastination is not an appropriate dance move, especially while dancing with death. 
  3. I need to do what I can to lengthen my years here on Earth.  These attempts are not guaranteed means of assuring my longevity.  I do cardiovascular exercise every day whether it is on my bike, kayak, or elliptical trainer.  I eat correctly.  I also see my doctors routinely and follow their instructions.
  4.  Finally, I know that if I follow the above outline and am lucky, I can beat the Social Security's calculation.  George Burns and I share January 20 as our birthdays.  For years, I have written about making it past the century mark, which he did.

This is a link to Dr. Sacks' website:  http://www.oliversacks.com/

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