When this book first came out, a friend of mine texted me and told me I had to read it. I dutifully added to my TBR list, but privately I thought I’d never get around to it. I couldn’t imagine ever being in a mood where I’d want to read the memoir of a man who died of cancer in his 30s. I work in direct service, and it’s a convenient excuse to get out of a lot of “sad” things. I see real life sadness everyday, I tell myself–I’m not going to go to see tearjerker movies. I’m not going to watch This is Us. And I’m not going to read a book all about somebody else’s slow death.
I picked it up this weekend, although it felt like a chore at first. Soon, however, I realized I was a third of the way into it. I read it on my Kindle, so I don’t know how short it is, really, but it’s the first book I’ve read in a long time where I wished it was longer. Paul Kalanithi was a beautiful writer, and even though it technically is about a man dying of cancer, that’s just the beginning.
When Breath Becomes Air is the story of Kalanithi’s childhood, his training to become a neurologist, and ultimately, his death, but it is also about his struggle to understand the meaning of his life, to reconcile himself to his inevitable death, and to figure out what really mattered to him. I think this book will mean different things to different people. What struck me most was Kalanithi’s ability to be vulnerable, and to constantly crack open his own heart to more love. These are the things that I hope stay with me, long after I’ve forgotten everything else in this book.