What is it about successful people that we have a hard time imagining them as real people with real problems? While we can definitely imagine our close friends leaving their bed after a rough night and barely making it to the kitchen for a glass of water, why can’t we imagine the same for people who have acquired a certain level of achievement? We maybe cannot have an image in our brain of a Mark Zuckerberg eating some cereal in the morning, but he might even be lactose intolerant — and we would not even know. Our perception of success and how it informs our decisions of people might go further and make us believe that Bill Gates could possibly be immortal. But then, how are we to know?
World lost a mastermind last week, someone whom we would not have imagined passing away until he found out about his terminal illness in January. On August 30, Oliver Sacks passed away, losing his short-lived battle against the metastases from his ocular tumour. Sacks announced the sad news through a New York Times op-ed, where he acknowledged his fate and showed the world that as human beings — successful or not — we all face death. That is the one thing we can never avoid – at least unless we discover the elixir of life. Regardless of the eerie uncertainty of death, Sacks’s words were optimistic of his existential end looming large. As opposed to pining over the future, he announced his choice to look behind and say “no regrets”.
Mr. Sacks was a renown British neurologist, also known as a brilliant artist and writer. After concluding his studies at The Queen’s College, Oxford, he moved to the United States and spent the rest of his life on U.S. soil. He inspired many movies as he opened up a new terrain of scientific writing by incorporating the “personal” and the “creative” with his methodology. As a man of many facades, Sacks also had a real life with real problems. Like most of us, he had a favorite coffee shop that he visited regularly (in Greenwich Village actually), went through a period in his life when he was a bodybuilder and a biker. He never married and only came out about his homosexuality in 2015. Maybe his success sometimes overshadowed his personal life, but he was not only a scholar studying human nature, he was a man devoted to appreciating human nature. His life was not a study, but a celebration of life itself.