Setting Friends on the Shelf: Dr. Sacks

Setting Friends on the Shelf: Dr. Sacks

Dr. Oliver Wolf Sacks hasn’t been put on my shelf yet. I’m still traveling with him — in so many senses. His memoir, On the Move, with its subdued red and blue cover — minus his striking motorcycle portrait that I  sacrificed along the way, has been in my hands (so snug in my heart, too) in this room and then that room serving up a bolt of literary lightning while I prune or did I mean to say edit my comedy.  His propensity for connecting,  his propulsive caring for his patients, his family, his friends reach the mark throughout. His prose glides so high but yet is so tenderly wrought I feel like close company on his trek. He does that — he brings us along through his triumphs and disappointments. Me along I want to say, as I turn the pages. You too? Of course.

He modestly eclipses my other writing sage who no longer writes, Laurie Colwin, who lives on her own block on my bedroom shelves, though it’s been years and years since she stopped inventing plots. But while Laurie mastered nuance and gave us a tour of her characters’ hearts and visions, neurologist premier Dr. Sacks took his magnificent talent and thrust for listening and observing the patients he met in his clinics, and clear drip by clear drip reported/poeticized what he saw and revealed his extraordinary efforts to all of us … .  Their stories, his penchant to get to know them, to befriend them as few doctors had before,  and his colossal grasp of everything from Bartok to ferns to the rigors of weightlifting, all merging where science and poetry and curiosity touch.

I was on page 254 when I learned that his heroic caravan had stopped. In his respectful and always forthright way, he had prepared us months ago that his ride on earth was soon ending. More writing will be shared, we’ve been promised, posthumously. I’ll never stop trying to find new models to tune up my writing, and his memoir’s robust pages reveal exactly how feeling and technique can meet.  Dr. Sacks’ planetary-sized example of pure caring and determination will soon claim a conspicuous and very reachable spot on my shelves.

And while I’ve begun holding back my page-turning visits to make his precious company last yet longer, I admit that I’ve roved about in the index pages, lured by names and encounters I was impatient to read about.  His time with Robin Williams, the ways he made stiff unproductive rules yield to his inner compassion, and the times he suffered personal setbacks to help his patients move ahead … all this and the joys of his life will radiate on and off the shelf he’ll eventually land on.

As Dr. Oliver Sacks reminds us: “There will be no one like us when we are gone. But then there is no one like anyone else ever.”

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