Oliver Sacks

I had no idea that Oliver Sacks was gay. Not that it matters. Or should, except:

It was then that my father, inquiring into my sexual feelings, compelled me to admit that I liked boys. “I haven’t done anything,” I said, “it’s just a feeling — but don’t tell Ma, she won’t be able to take it.” He did tell her, and the next morning she came down with a look of horror on her face, and shrieked at me: “You are an abomination. I wish you had never been born.”

Oliver Sacks. The man who made the world aware of Temple Grandin, the ambassador of high functioning autism; Oliver Sacks, the lyricist who gave us Awakenings.

Because of a thing that cultures have about who excites the joy of attraction in your heart, a parent could say of such a man, “I wish you had never been born.”

That is only a sidelight of his essay, goddess, it is a glorious essay, and it comes back to the Sabbath, let me note I never even appreciated that Sacks was observantly Jewish to any extent, contra his excellent and late colleague Harold Klawans who wrote neurology essays that made the heart leap and then sent fictional doctor heroes to Israel to find smoking guns, fun, yowza. But the Sabbath. It is, as we state, a Jewish concept but the world needs more testimony to the need for a still place in the cacophony of existence, and Sacks at the end of his life speaks more poignantly than anything I can begin to say of it.


MY mother and her 17 brothers and sisters had an Orthodox upbringing — all photographs of their father show him wearing a yarmulke, and I was told that he woke up if it fell off during the night. My father, too, came from an Orthodox background. Both my parents were very conscious of the Fourth Commandment (“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”), and the Sabbath (Shabbos, as we called it in our Litvak way) was entirely different from the rest of the week.


I wonder what that mother thought of herself when her son, whom she wished had never been born, became, well, Oliver Sacks. I wonder about everyone who can’t get past the prescribed ideas and see their children or merely people around them for who they are.

I just wish everyone could fucking get over it.

It’s a stunning article. Make time for it, if you can.


4 thoughts on “Oliver Sacks

  1. Wonderful article! I teared up. I am also a person with a mezzuzah on the door but too atheist to really immerse in the community anymore. I read Sacks’ book about losing a leg decades ago and honestly… I hated it. I thought the writing was boring and pretentious and overly wrought. But this article… whole different story. Thank you for sharing it. I wouldn’t have known about it otherwise. 🙂

    • I can only reflect that people mature over decades. (That book is one I do not know.)

      I recommend Klawans, by the way. He is a little more observant, as I noted, and though Sacks is better known, Klawans is really the more readable of the two. But they both write at the level where comparisons are invidious, and in the same territory, which makes it interesting. Look up “Defending the Cave Woman.”

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