Most of us don’t know when we’re going to die. We know it will happen, but we have so many dreams and ideas—so many things we want to do, so much time we want to spend with people dear to us—that we prefer not to think about it. It could happen today, but maybe it won’t happen for another 40 years. So actually we don’t even try not to think about it. We simply don’t think about it.
Until something happens. Maybe it’s the sudden, unexpected death of a healthy friend or a rock star. Or maybe it’s something else.
For Paul Kalanithi, it was something else. A brilliant neurosurgeon, he found out at age 36 that he had stage IV lung cancer. The questions in his life changed from What should I focus my research on for the next 20 years? and When should we start having children? to How much time do I really have? How should I spend my remaining days, weeks, months, years? and Should we have a child at all?
His memoir, WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR, was cut short when he took a turn for the worse, but it is long enough to get his points across. His writing is beautiful, clear and insightful, and he raises questions that we all must confront sooner or later. What is the meaning of my life? Am I spending it the best way I can?
You don’t have to wait for a diagnosis to ask these questions.