Paul Kalanithi was successful by every societal standard. He had graduated from Stanford with double majors in English and Biology and earned advanced degrees in both fields before becoming a Chief Resident at the Stanford Hospital. He was a talented academic, diligent neurosurgeon and loving husband, with the world at hand and the brightest future one could possibly imagine.
But when he was diagnosed with lung cancer, everything came crashing down.
When Breath Becomes Air is divided into two sections — one that relates Paul’s journey of discovering his calling as a neurosurgeon after a lengthy but indirect grapple with death, and the other as he is granted the wish of experiencing death more directly, but not in the manner he wished he would.
Paul’s writing is concise but intimate. Despite his countless encounters with death and suffering during his career, the book still unveils his bewilderment and fragility in face of cancer. Yet it is precisely this vulnerability that reveals another side of him — beneath the enviably glossy resume is only a human, whose fears and hopes are the same as those of any other.
I’m really glad I read this book immediately after finishing Love, Money & Parenting. After thinking about people as rational, informed, resource-allocating creatures who could be categorized by sociological variables, it is easy to forget that these statistics are individuals, each of whom lives among us, as doctors, patients, friends, and family.
In a global mentality that continues to think in “us vs. them,” it is easy to be blinded by socially constructed barriers.
But our lives on Earth are only finite, and despite all our differences throughout these journeys, at the end we are only the same.
One moment it is breath in, breath out, and in the next, breath has become air.
For more book reviews, visit me on Instagram @ RandomStuffIRead