When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi

The question of your mortality always should make one think. This book, more than most I have read this year, has given me pause. The subject matter, death and your legacy, is something that people don’t often ponder.

“When Breath Becomes Air” is a memoir by Paul Kalanithi. Kalanithi spent most of his life studying to become a brain surgeon. At one point in his life, he became so crippled with pain that he finally relented and went to the doctor. He found out that he had stage four lung cancer. So this book has multiple angles: the doctor becoming the patient is one of the more critical ones.

But other questions arise. What to make of a life dedicated to medicine on the eve of your death? These are the questions that Kalanithi grapples with. And what lies inside this book is both a poignant tribute to his life and work and, more importantly, a reminder that life is short. But not only is life short, it matters what you do and who you touch. We all think that something like cancer will never touch our lives until it does. I love the attitude that Kalanithi writes with because it demonstrates defiance in light of his pain.

After reading this book, I seriously grappled with questions like what does what I know matter? In Kalanithi’s experience, he spent his entire life studying to become a brain surgeon. But cancer got in his way. Similarly, just because we know a lot doesn’t mean anything. It all is in vain if we do not have love (1 Corinthians 13). That is a powerful reminder, even if Kalanithi doesn’t explicitly state this from a Christian worldview.

I really enjoyed this book. I think more people should read it.

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