When he was thirty-six, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. This is devastating news to anyone especially at such a young age, but as someone on the verge of completing his training as a neurosurgen, this was particularly horrifying. He was helping others survive as a doctor and the next he was a patient struggling to survive. In this moving memoir, Kalanithi weaves a story of death and life: why he became a surgeon and how he faced a devastating end to a promising career.
What appealed to me about When Breath Becomes Air is how gentle it approaches death. Even amidst the horrible finality that it can bring, it lays down the truth in a gentle bed. Kalanithi could have been bitter about his fate, his life cut short just when he was just about to start: his schooling almost done, a new baby, and a beautiful wife. But he doesn’t. I think when faced with death on a daily basis and in the most extreme ways (the premature birth and death of a set of twins still sticks with me), he has come to terms with something that we all must face at some point in our lives. Whether it comes after many good years or just a few, we all must embrace the circle of life.
I’m glad that Kalanithi wrote this book. Even though he meant to write more but was unable to, I think he conveyed all his thoughts in a brief 200 pages.
Overall impression: A gentle meditation on life and death and how we approach life in spite of our impending ends.