What would you do faced with the knowledge of your own mortality? Death is something we all think about and come into contact with sooner or later, it is something we cannot escape. It is final. It is a mystery. It is something that is met with both fascination and reluctance. Sometimes it strikes like lightning, out of nowhere and over in an instant. Sometimes it creeps up slowly, leaving us time to ponder it, try to understand it, prepare for it. Some may see this as a blessing, a time to put your affairs in order, tick off the bucket list, spend quality time with friends and family. Some may see it as a curse, a ticking time bomb, the sword of Damocles hanging over our head. Either way it is something that has been explored in fiction, ever since words were put to paper or stories told from mouths.
Over the years I have come across memoirs written by those with the wolves at their door, the axe on the back of their necks. Ordinary people (or in my opinion, extraordinary) who have received knowledge of their impending mortality. Each and every one of these memoirs have stuck with me long after I closed the covers having read (and wept into) the pages. These tales I count up there in the most influential and memorable books I have encountered in my life. Why are these books worth picking up? What can we learn from people entering the twilight of their lives? Well I’m hear to share just a few with you that I have read and loved and to ask for any recommendations you have to share too.
These perspectives can teach you what is truly important in life. Is it career? Is it family? Is it friends? Travel? Possessions? Can it be a mix of it all? The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch was the first of these memoirs that I picked up, a good five or so years ago. Randy worked as a lecturer at a university and had a wife and young family when he was diagnosed with cancer. His book is based on a lecture he gave prior to his death, what last words of wisdom would you impart on the world given the opportunity? Devastatingly this opportunity went from hypothetical to reality. While you may weep, lost in the pages, Randy details so many important life lessons from the big ones about chasing your life dreams to the smaller ones like minding your manners and not underestimating a thank you note. This truly is a guide you can live your life by and despite it coming about in such a tragic way, there is so much we can all take and apply in our lives while we have the chance. I would recommend this to anyone and have bought multiple copies to hand out to those who I think would appreciate it.
When Breath Becomes Air has a very different story and perspective to share. The author, Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon who is diagnosed with lung cancer in his late 30s shares his journey with cancer. From the physician saving peoples lives, his role abruptly shifts to that of the patient. He is faced with the decision of how to spend his limited time. “The truth that you lived one day at a time didn’t help. What was I supposed to do with that one day?”. Did he have two years? Did he have ten? Should he continue with his medical career, or write a book as he always assumed he would? What about children? They were in the future. What that future still there? His thoughts are beautiful, poignant and had a profound affect on me. Having a colleague in an all too similar situation as Kalinithi when I first read this book I gained a lot of perspective in this memoir, and then found myself turning to it for comfort when my colleague succumbed to finitude also.
Dying: A Memoir by Cory Taylor is the most recent of these books that I have read and yet it stands apart from the previous two by miles. This could be that Taylor is in her early sixties, has lived a relatively full life and her children are grown. This memoir stands apart because of the stoicism in Taylor’s words. She has accepted death and discusses important issues such as voluntary euthanasia and why she stands for it. Her opinions are intelligent and well-formed. A fascinating read for anyone who wants a little insight into someone who would have considered this had she the opportunity. Taylor’s words are the most beautiful, the most poetic. An absolute joy to read. Being the only writer by trade her clear affinity for the written word adds something more to this book. Another that is well worth the time.
What makes each of these books so special is that each of these incredible people have something to teach us, wisdom to impart. Something that makes their life meaningful, something we can take and use in our own to make sure that we seize our day and live our life to the fullest while we still have it. These books are an experience not to be discounted. Now, over to you, any further recommendations for my lovely readers? Read any of the ones I have mentioned? Let me know what you think.