Monday, August 31, 2015
Oliver Sachs, the beloved neurologist who wrote such compelling books as "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat," has died at age 82. His life was portrayed by Robin Williams in the film "Awakenings."
What distinguished Sachs from most of his colleagues was the degree of "heart" that he brought to his work. He did not simply classify his patients in certain accepted categories but saw each person as a unique being, whose ailment expressed itself in ways peculiar to that person alone. He felt that a narrative approach best revealed the essence of both the person and the problem, and for this was criticized by many of his colleagues, who, apparently, did not believe in the relevance of the "personal story."
Anyone who saw Sachs on T. V. was impressed by his elfin like qualities. There was a sweetness about him––even a kind of childlike naivete––that was (to many of us) irresistible. In a world of often coldly rational medical practitioners, such warmth and "humanness" were a welcome contrast.
His biography ("On the Move") contained many unexpected revelations. He was once a leather clad motorcyclist in Venice, California. He was also clearly a "repressed homosexual." Obviously that repression came about because of the strictures of a homophobic society, which condemned anything outside the "norms" of the day.
Sacks never married, lived alone for most of his life and was chronically shy. In the book, however, he revealed details of his homosexuality. In America he pumped iron on Venice’s Muscle Beach and became a leather-clad biker. He wrote that he was in thrall to “images of bikers and cowboys and pilots, whom I imagined to be in precarious but jubilant control of their powerful mounts”. On learning of her son’s sexuality, however, his mother exclaimed: “You are an abomination. I wish you had never been born”. When he turned 40 Sacks had a week-long liaison with a Harvard student. “After that sweet birthday fling,” he recalled, “I was to have no sex for the next thirty-five years.”
(above from The Telegraph)
Sacks wrote that his mother’s words had to be understood in the context of the times. Homosexual acts were not decriminalized in England until the 1960s; his mother, he wrote, “had an Orthodox upbringing.” Yet, her denunciation would prove crushing to a young man about to embark on a brilliant career as a psychiatrist.
“Her words haunted me for much of my life and played a major part in inhibiting and injecting with guilt what should have been a free and joyous expression of sexuality,” he wrote.
(above from the Morning Mix)
Thus it would seem that he, like some other well known figures of his time, was deprived of an essential part of his being because of the intolerance of those around him (think of the genius Alan Turing, one of the greatest intellectuals of all time, driven to suicide, though he had in a stunning insight broken the German code in WWII and likely saved many many thousands of lives thereby). However, Sach's obituary does mention briefly that he lived the last few years of his life with his male companion whom he loved.
I have often wished that Oliver Sachs had turned his attention to Kundalini. I am convinced that he would have had some extremely valuable observations to make on this subject, which so far has not been subject to rigorous scientific examination.