I read this piece by Oliver Sacks in the times last week, and have reread it 5 or 6 times since. It’s a reflection upon learning that he has terminal cancer. Read it before continuing, it’s beautiful.
I couldn’t figure out exactly why it spoke to me so deeply, but now I know. Sack’s sets up a framework between living in “matters of the present” vs. “matters of the future” which rings very true to me. Friends, travel, enjoying each day…these are matters of the present that anyone alive can choose to prioritize. There is common wisdom that guides us to “live in the present,” and workaholics are always warned of the hospice nurse who reminds us that “the dying never say ‘I wish I had spent more time at the office.’” Peace in the middle east, global warming…these are matters that belong to the future. Unresolved…but hairy problems that are only of concern to someone who will be here tomorrow, or next year when solutions are more in reach.
I found it fascinating that Sacks has chosen to live in the present in his last months, not because he wishes he had done it differently before, but rather because he can no longer have a role in matters of the future. I love the notion that matters of the future, when put against the present, represent struggle and effort…that matters of the future are work…and focussing on them is…by definition…not living in the present…yet Sacks obviously valued his participation in these matters as, if not more deeply, than those of the present. I loved the gratitude he expresses around having had “an intercourse with the world. The special intercourse a writers and readers.” I take away form these words that work and struggle, and toiling with the future is a great privilege…and that “living in the moment” while such a privilege is available to us is to forgo a right granted to all with a tomorrow.
I live this privilege to toil with future…everyday…as I go to work…and struggle…to answer questions unanswered…
Not everyday does it feel like a privilege…when your run down, and tired, and the answers aren’t coming fast enough…when the next meeting on you calendar looks like a brick fucking wall…remember what a deep privilege it is not to be traveling…not to be living to enjoy each day…you are exercising your right to deeply participate in matters of our future. Sacks had the intercourse of writers and readers, and we have the intercourse of startups and users…and when we reach the moment where necessity commands we give up this right…when we have to travel, and enjoy each day…we will look at this intercourse with the deepest gratitude, and not wish we had done more yoga and bike rides…There is an army of youth who surrender to matters of the present before required…they are surfing and meditating and seeing the world…and when they face the moment that they can no longer concern themselves with matters of the future, they won’t even realize the privilege they lose…
Some days…when living in matters of the future is particularly hard…when the struggle has been the struggle for too many days…I long to surrender my privilege…to move to the mountains and live moment to moment…how much easier life would be without the toil of tomorrow…but I will not…until i see my end as clearly as I see what could be.
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