Paul Kalanithi

Wed Apr 18 2018

I had heard many positive things about the late Paul Kalanithi’s memoir When Breath Becomes Air, but I’m genuinely surprised at how quietly powerful his book was. Paul had an incredible way with describing the vicissitudes of life - he managed to convey the emotional highs and lows of various situations, which let me, as he might say, walk for a little bit in his shoes before returning to my own.

At the center of all this, is one question: what is it that we truly enjoy?

I’ve struggled with this question myself, much like others as well. I’d always been afraid that I’d finally uncover what I enjoy as I see the end of my life just over the distance - too late, then, to fill myself up satisfactorily with what I truly enjoy. Mortality is funny thing. At the time of writing, I’m still relatively young and unlikely to perish anytime soon. Yet Paul died at the age of 37 despite being the picture of fantastic health. I don’t think I’m prepared for my own mortality, despite at least having acknowledged that yes, I will die sometime in the future, be it tomorrow or in 60 years. There’s still so many things I want to experience and accomplish before I lie down on my deathbed and reflect upon those things.

If I found out that I had two years to live, how would I live it? Would I be scared and attempt to prolong my life artificially as long as possible? Or would I quietly embrace the news, and live the best life I possibly could until I slip away into the unknown? I don’t really know, but I can imagine the grieving at knowing my life was being cut short.

Paul’s memoir also ends abruptly, so abruptly that I was even angry when I turned the page and was met with his wife’s epilogue! I suppose that could be analogous of hubris in my own life expectancy… Regardless, Paul’s question lends itself naturally to asking ourselves, “are we satisfied with our lives?” It seems common to ask this question on our deathbeds, almost as if it’s one of the last housekeeping items from our time being alive. I don’t think I would be satisfied with my own life quite yet. Similar to Paul, I’ve always wanted to pursue writing in some form. Emotional, straight from the heart writing, the kind of writing that people liken to when they think about great literature; the kind of writing that evokes universal human emotions and offers people some guidance to the craziness that is the human condition. I wouldn’t be satisfied with my life until I was able to reach deeply in myself and proffer my bare to the rest of humanity for them to examine and maybe take my feelings and experiences to help them move through their own lives.