Sunday Territorian 1 Mar 2015
Sunday Territorian; NewspaperNT
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Community newspapers -- Northern Territory -- Darwin.; Australian newspapers -- Northern Territory -- Darwin.
Nationwide News Pty. Limited
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Nationwide News Pty. Limited
16 LIFESTYLE SUNDAY MARCH 1 2015 NTNE01Z01MA - V1 Lessons from a life well lived Author and neurologist Oliver Sacks is facing his mortality with grace Picture: ELENA SEIBRET SOMETIMES I wonder what it must be like to be old. To be culturally irrelevant in an age when the pneumatic young take all the oxygen. Once so vital, respected and heard, so many over 70 are now regarded like a plate of salami sandwiches left untouched on the table after a wake: crusts curling; malodorous; immaterial. Yet recently two old men have taught me all I need to know about life. Last September Clive James wrote a poem so exquisite I printed it out and keep it beside my bed, reading it like a meditation against the tumult of the day. A worn armchair of a man, James is dying from leukaemia and chastened by the exposure of a long-time affair. Yet his poem, Japanese Maple, twinkles with all that is meaningful. He writes of how he wants to live until autumn so that he might see the tree, given to him by his daughter, turn to flame. Life is enhanced, he says, when energy is drained, but thought and sight remain. When did you ever see, he writes, so much sweet beauty as when fine rain falls on that small tree. Whats compelling is that 75-year-old James cultural magpie, bon vivant, skilled raconteur bats a paw-like hand at melancholy and instead embraces his dying days with the wonderment of a child. Oliver Sacks, the neurologist and author of Awakenings made into a movie with Robin Williams, is similarly affecting. Upon learning he has terminal cancer, Sacks, 81, last week wrote an elegant farewell to life. Like the Five Regrets of the Dying which went viral after being casually blogged by an Australian palliative care nurse, Sacks valediction is one of those pieces you read, feel, then as typically happens walk away and forget. But we shouldnt. I hope Sacks will forgive me but Ive filleted his farewell into eight life lessons that should be read not as a eulogy but as a galvanising guide to life. I am a man of vehement disposition, with violent enthusiasm, and extreme immoderation in all my passions. How many of us default to whats careful, timid, correct? How often do we adopt a narrow rather than an expansive mindset? Im forever urging my kids to see beyond the should to the could. Politically, we could do with violent enthusiasm well, other than Jacqui Lambies. And what warped world do we live in that status and money are the most desired characteristics in a partner? For goodness sake, embrace someone that rips into life like a hyena at a carcass. Over the last few days I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of land scape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. Another old man, my lecturer at journalism school, once told me that to become any sort of writer I needed to look out a plane window and find a different way to describe it each time. All of us could benefit from changing the aperture on our lives. So often we only see the stonking great mountain in front of us and not the river behind the bend or the forest far from now. Sleep under the stars to remind yourself how small a cog you are in a wider wheel. Or get lost occasionally. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at NewsHour every night. Modern life turns on the twin homilies of not sweating the small stuff and keeping things in perspective but both are rubbish. As I write, there are ants crawling over my desk small stuff but bloody annoy ing. Far better is Sacks suggestion to effectively ignore anything without essence. If family disputes and inconsequential concerns are unworthy of the dying, theyre even more wasted on the living. I rejoice when I meet gifted young people even the one who biopsied and diagnosed my metastases. I feel the future is in good hands. The antipathy between generations is pointless. Regard them all generously. I have loved and been loved. Sacks has never married or lived with anyone and yet hes experienced love. If we could unshackle ourselves from the notion that marriage and children are the only pillars of success, how less righteously we might live. I have been given much and I have given something in return. Giving back has long been my tomorrow. Its time I made it my yesterday. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers. Sacks is not talking sex hes been celibate for years. Yet hes enjoyed the sensuousness of sharing stories. Its time we reclaimed the brain as an erogenous zone. I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure. Cant add to that. How fortunate are we to have our imaginations stretched by the heart and smarts of these dying men. Although James may have pre-empted his demise. I am in the slightly embarrassing position, he said recently, where I write poems saying Im about to die and then dont. We can only wish for him another autumn. I have loved and been loved LIFE WITHOUT BARRIERS HOME AND COMMUNITY CARE SERVICES We provide: TRANSPORT DOMESTIC ASSISTANCE SOCIAL SUPPORT T. 08 8930 2300 E. HACCDarwin@lwb.org.au W. www.lwb.org.au Life Without Barriers ofers Home and Community Care (HACC) services for older people in the greater Darwin region to remain living independently at home, and in the community for as long as possible. CENTRE BASED DAY PROGRAM