“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.” ~ Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
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This time of year the days become shorter, the nights become cooler, and autumn sits on the precipice. Having just returned from a wonderful family holiday in Vancouver, I am saddened by the end of summer holidays and impending return of school routines.
Although some endings can elicit feelings of joy and happiness, others can lead to sadness and despair. Overall, we have so much to be grateful for regardless. In the words of Dr. Suess, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
Today, Oliver Sacks passed away. He was a beloved physician, writer and human being. I have always been fascinated with Dr. Sacks’ work, which includes many well-known books such as The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, Awakenings and An Anthropologist From Mars, just to name a few. This year, as timing would have it, Dr. Sacks released his memoir On The Move followed by the New York Times article My Own Life, both casting a light onto his personal life and ultimately facing his imminent death following a diagnosis of terminal cancer.
Before I left for vacation with my family, a colleague of mine sent me the link to Oliver Sacks’ most recent New York Times article Sabbath. The article not only signifies his Jewish upbringing, but also the seventh day of the week. As he so eloquently stated:
“And now, weak, short of breath, my once-firm muscles melted away by cancer, I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life – achieving a sense of peace within oneself. I find my thoughts drifting to the Sabbath, the day of rest, the seventh day of the week, and perhaps the seventh day of one’s life as well, when one can feel that one’s work is done, and one may, in good conscience, rest.”
When faced with endings, our best approach is gratitude. In fact, everything in life is best approached with gratitude. This is a recurrent theme that I have mentioned many times in previous posts when discussing happiness, resilience, burnout prevention, living a life of meaning and many other topics.
How do you to practice gratitude? Thankfully, no one way exists. I keep a gratitude journal but that doesn’t work for everyone. Brené Brown practices gratitude by asking her family, at the supper table, one thing they are grateful for from the day.
True joy comes from expressing gratitude, from the light within, not only when the sun is out (in reference to the opening quote above). As Oliver Sacks said as he neared the end of his life:
“I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.
Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”
~ Oliver Sacks, My Own Life, February 19th, 2015
Dr. Oliver Sacks, I am truly grateful for your impact on the world through your writings. May you rest in peace.