Lucy Kalanithi muses on life and meaning in this extremely affecting presentation, relating the tale of her late husband, Paul, a young neurosurgeon who resorted to writing after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. Paul and I met in our first year of medical school at Yale.... He was two years older than me, an Indian immigrant who had grown up in Washington State. I was drawn to him immediately because he was smart and funny, and also because he had no idea how beautiful he was. We married within a month of meeting, and for several years we had a happy marriage over which I had no influence. Then I found out I was pregnant with Lucy... After that, everything changed. The moment I realized I was going to have a baby, everything became more important. I wanted to be perfect for my son, who would never know how terrible his father's mistakes were.
But even though I knew there would be times when I'd be too tired or stressed to be perfect, I still wanted more time with Paul. I wanted to watch him grow up and fall in love and get married himself. So I kept working as a surgeon during the day and then writing about my experiences nights and weekends. But after a while, I grew bored with my own story and decided to write about someone else's life, which is how I came to write About Lucy.
When Breath Becomes Air follows Kalanithi's journey from a medical student wondering what makes a virtuous and meaningful life to a neurosurgeon studying at the heart of human identity—the brain—and, eventually, to a patient and a new father. What makes life worthwhile in the face of impending death? And how is this question related to science?
Kalanithi begins by exploring how doctors try to give meaning to their lives and finds inspiration in those who have suffered and survived against all odds. He then uses his experience as a neurosurgeon to ponder what it means to be human and comes to some surprising conclusions about the mind and body, life and death, that we will learn only after he has passed away.
This book is about how one man came to understand himself and his place in the world better than anyone else could have told him. It is also about the many things we cannot know with certainty even after living our full lives. Most of all, it is about the way we are all connected—physically, psychologically, and spiritually—and how whatever makes life worth living for one person can make all the difference for another.
Kalanithi concludes by urging readers to continue to seek answers to what makes life valuable even after death and to keep fighting for justice and equality for all people.
"What Makes a Life Significant?" he asks in his essay. According to James, meaningful lives are built on the union of two components: deliberately selected values and bold, vigorous activities. The metaphor of "marriage" used by James vividly illustrates the link between principles and bold action. A marriage without principles is just a casual relationship; it may be enjoyable at first but will eventually collapse under its own weight. However, a marriage with strong foundations can withstand any storm.
James argues that our choices about values reflect what matters most to us. Therefore, the meaning of your life will be determined by the priorities you establish from the beginning. For example, if you choose to devote yourself exclusively to family, then your life will be full of joy when you have children of your own. If not, then it is likely to be void of any real value.
At its core, the quest for significance involves three questions: What matters? Why matter? How do we find out? James offers several answers to these questions. He begins by pointing out that many people think that wealth, fame, power, romance, or pleasure can give life meaning. But such things cannot provide meaning to someone who wants it explicitly, because they are not goals which can be pursued steadily over time.
Instead, the philosopher says that only three categories of objects can provide significance to life: ideas, relationships, and actions.
Some authors make stories about other people; their characters are based on friends or they live vicariously through the lives of strangers. Others write about their personal experiences. This is why we read books, watch movies, and seek transcendent experiences; it is why we become engrossed in tales. We want to be able to feel alive.
We read about other people's lives because we know that our own is not so special. No matter how much we might want to believe that something great or terrible will happen to us one day, the truth is that our lives follow a typical pattern; we rise above our problems instead of getting crushed by them. We experience joy and sorrow, success and failure. We meet people who are different from us and learn about their cultures and ways of thinking. Through these stories, we try to understand ourselves and our place in the world.
The writer as protagonist. That's what makes a story worth telling.
What does the scene in the cemetery say about the worth of human life? This scenario demonstrates that the worth of a human life is as a particle of dust, and their main purpose is to shield Paul from the onslaught. Without humans standing up for others, the world would be a very dangerous place to live in. Humans are capable of great violence yet also have the potential to show compassion -- this shows that humanity is not fully good or evil.
Modern society tends to put a high value on human life. We expect doctors, police officers, and other people who work with dangerous materials to take appropriate precautions to avoid death or serious injury. We also expect companies to protect employees' health by providing safe working conditions and necessary equipment.
Yet even though we know how important it is to keep people alive, we also know that some people will always try to harm others. This means that there will always be a need for vigilance and protection, even in peaceful times.
In conclusion, the graveyard scene shows that the value of human life is as a particle of dust because everyone dies and nobody is guaranteed future survival. Human life has no more value than any other life form, which means that it can be ended at any time without guilt or remorse.
[Continuation] The certainty of death forces one's viewpoint to live their own life as if it were their last. Life does not operate on the basis of "we live to die." "We construct purpose to offer hues till our inevitable and colorless end occurs," it says. Thus, the fear of death makes us conscious of living each day as if it were our last.
Death is part of life. Without death, there is no new birth. Our lives come to an end so that something new can be born. Death is a necessary part of growth. Without it, we would remain static; nothing positive could ever change or grow stale.
Without death, there is no reward for effort, no punishment for sin, and no hope for human nature. Even though we will be resurrected, we are still controlled by our natural desires which will again tempt us into sin. Also, since humanity is inherently evil, there is no way to ensure that we will always choose what's best for us. We need constant reminders that life after death is possible so that we don't fall back into old habits.
Thus, the threat of death helps keep us alive today with hopes and plans for tomorrow. It also keeps us working hard in this life so that we will be rewarded in the next. Death provides a reason for living every day as if it were your last.