Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air

Autobiography, Non-Fiction

An inspiring autobiography about a neurosurgeon that grapples with a fatal cancer diagnosis

It’s very rare that a non-fiction book moves me and this book did just that. I couldn’t put it down. The book gave me a lot of feels that I hope I can portray in the following summary:

Death is such a foreign concept — we throw phrases around like “live everyday like it’s your last” and “live life to the fullest” but most of us aren’t actually living out those phrases. And it’s for good reason — we have jobs, bills, and countless other responsibilities we’re held accountable for. And that’s life. We hear stories about people quitting their day jobs to go on a crazy life changing adventure but does anyone ever talk about what happens to those afterwards? No? Probably because they’re now trying to make a living somewhere.So then how does one really understand the magnitude at which we come face to face with death? We don’t…until we face it. That’s the thing with life, you can live your life in fear that you’re going to die or acknowledge that you’re going to die and live in spite of it. 

This is where Paul’s story comes in. Paul has lived a life in pursuit of uncovering what makes life worth living. Upon trying to understand such a quandary, he realizes he has to live it rather than understand the meaning of it philosophically. On this path, he becomes a neurosurgeon who on his last year of residency when all of his hard work and delayed satisfaction would pay off gets diagnosed with a fatal cancer diagnosis. Let’s take a step back here, someone whose livelihood is to save lives is someone who can’t save his own? The irony is hard to grasp. But here’s Paul and here’s his elegant yet raw story of going from provider to patient to struggling to come to terms with his own body betraying him EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Paul knows what is to come and rather than it just being a vague inevitable truth, it’s one that has a deadline — whether it’s a three month sentence to a few years is unclear. Does that help? Does it help knowing? Yes, you’re going to die and it’s going to come sooner than later but we still don’t know when. That’s the thing with illness, it hits when no one is expecting it and it destroys everything you’ve worked so hard to create in no time. How do you prepare for it? You can’t and there’s beauty and an almost comforting way to come to terms with this inevitable truth: we’re all going to die. Will it be today? Tomorrow? In a year? Who knows but we’re the only ones who have the power to craft the lives we would be proud to have lived and that’s an intangible thought that money can’t buy. In this book, Paul does just that: he chooses to live, work, and to write.

Paul’s story is inspiring and touching. It woke me up from a slumber I didn’t know I was experiencing. It grounded me. Helped me re-prioritize the things I valued. It cemented how insignificant material possessions are. It fortified that life earns value from the relationships we’ve fostered and the goals we’ve set for ourselves. We all know that we’re going to die, hopefully, this book will inspire you to start living while we’re still capable of it. 

Interested? Buy here. Also, make sure to add your email under the follow button to get notifications of the next post.

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