Paul Kalanithi was a man who spent his life trying to find Truth. First he searched for it in literature, then in neurosurgery and neuroscience. He studied at Stanford, Cambridge and Yale.
He wanted to understand the difference between brain and mind; between the physical and metaphysical. He was always acutely aware of his mortality, and was never afraid to face it.
‘When breath becomes air’ is a beautifully written autobiography of a man who had to make the difficult transition from a doctor who saved lives to a lung-cancer patient who knew that his would not be saved.
He continued to work as a surgeon despite aggressive treatment, and never gave up on his search for Truth.
This is an intelligent, thought-provoking and emotional story, and I would wager probably the best written book that I will read this year.
Paul talks about how even when we live, we are dying.
Often our search for beauty, truth, for why we are here, sits in the tension between life and death. We feel immortal, cannot grasp not exising; yet are faced with the inescapable truth that one day we will die.
Beauty is often found in the physical representation of our mortality: a flower that will soon wither; a sunset whose light will suddenly fade; a short-lived rainbow. Their very mortality makes their beauty even more sweet.
If we choose not to avoid our mortality, but instead stare it in the face, I believe that our search for Truth will be enabled. The pretence that if we don’t think about death then it will never find us, just blurs our vision.
Paul Kalanithi was a man with his eyes wide open. It’s stunningly refreshing.