Book: When breath becomes air

I came across this book thanks to suggestions on this Twitter thread. So a shoutout to those who recommended it.

The book is a memoir penned by a dying young neurosurgeon named Paul Kalanithi. Paul was diagnosed with a lung cancer when he was on his way to earn a doctorship. He staged an inspiring battle against cancer while continuing to do what gave his life meaning. In the end, he passed away roughly two years after the first diagnosis and shortly after his daughter was born.

His life, his focus on his calling and the bond between him and his wife were inspiring to read. Though it left me in a downbeat mood for the obvious reason, I was glad that I picked up the book and through the words of the Kalanithi, went on a journey with them and learned from them.

I recalled listening to Steve Jobs saying that death reminded us how we were all going to die and it put everything we do into perspective. We only have one shot at life and need to make it count, no matter what it means to each of us. Reading the book plummeted me into realization and somewhat fear that life was too short. One moment, Paul was a marathon runner, a hotshot neurosugeon in California with a great family and a splendid career awaiting. The next moment, he found himself in a losing battle with death and powerless in his final days to the point that even eating was a torture.

Similar to all other book-related posts, below is the list of some of my favorite passages. I highly recommend you give this book a chance.

Only later would I realize that our trip had added a new dimension to my understanding of the fact that brains give rise to our ability to form relationships and make life meaningful. Sometimes, they break

Source: when breath becomes air

I had come to see language as an almost supernatural force, existing between people, bringing our brains, shielded in centimeter-thick skulls, into communion. A word meant something only between people, and life’s meaning, its virtue, had something to do with the depth of the relationships we form. It was the relational aspect of humans—i.e., “human relationality”—that undergirded meaning.

Source: when breath becomes air

Our patients’ lives and identities may be in our hands, yet death always wins. Even if you are perfect, the world isn’t. The secret is to know that the deck is stacked, that you will lose, that your hands or judgment will slip, and yet still struggle to win for your patients. You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.

Source: when breath becomes air

If the weight of mortality does not grow lighter, does it at least get more familiar?

Source: when breath becomes air

Everyone succumbs to finitude. I suspect I am not the only one who reaches this pluperfect state. Most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned; either way, they belong to the past. The future, instead of the ladder toward the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present. Money, status, all the vanities the preacher of Ecclesiastes described hold so little interest: a chasing after wind, indeed

Source: when breath becomes air

When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.

Source: when breath becomes air

I expected to feel only empty and heartbroken after Paul died. It never occurred to me that you could love someone the same way after he was gone, that I would continue to feel such love and gratitude alongside the terrible sorrow, the grief so heavy that at times I shiver and moan under the weight of it. Paul is gone, and I miss him acutely nearly every moment, but I somehow feel I’m still taking part in the life we created together.

Source: when breath becomes air

No philosopher can explain the sublime better than this, standing between day and night. It was as if this were the moment God said, “Let there be light!” You could not help but feel your specklike existence against the immensity of the mountain, the earth, the universe, and yet still feel your own two feet on the talus, reaffirming your presence amid the grandeur

Source: when breath becomes air