Book Review: When Breath Becomes Air

“When Breath Becomes Air” was a breathtaking read. I thought I could finish a short book in one sitting, but I couldn’t help tearing as I read through the second half of it.

Why did I tear when reading the book? It forces one to think about life, and provides a good glimpse at how even doctors change their world views on life with new information such as a dire prediction.

Perhaps I have the serendipity of having some pockets of free time to mull over life, and the joy of reading. Not everyone I know in my circle of friends have such luck. Some reach home in the dead of night and plonk on the bed almost immediately after their shower. Others would be so stressed about the thought of more words that they resort to their daily lose of Netflix, Instagram and Youtube (multiple social media works like a drug cocktail — administer together to reduce resistance against every social media out of social toxicity).

I teared partially because of the story. On the surface, it would seem like a gloomy, depressing book. The protagonist died before finishing his book, succumbing to cancer. The battle looked to have gone on well with the first line of defence, only to rapidly descend into the abyss of hopelessness and eventual demise. Yet, the book also illuminates the power of the human will to persevere especially against the extreme odds. Even in apparent failure, one has to call the eventual publishing of this book a bright spark amidst an otherwise blighted story. One such quote that looks at the power of the human will can be summed up as follows:

“You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.”

Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air

I cannot help but think at my own life and wonder whether I am really living life to the fullest. On one hand, I do feel a little pang of guilt when reaching home to watch a comforting but ultimately useless chess video. Yet, I also question if the mindless hustle that seems to be a fad among people my generation today worthwhile. Some boredom to clear the mind is good. Hustle, purposefully done, is also good. While it looks like a salubrious to take the “middle ground” here and say, “Live life purposefully; do things you love to do, and make sure to take breaks,” it is nothing more than a motherhood statement that one can easily question, “So, what to do, in specifics?”

Perhaps it begs me to think about life and its priorities. Millenials tend to call this a “quarter-life” crisis. I don’t agree, and prefer to look at the ability to determine our own life trajectory a privilege; we may never know when our own bodies may rebel against us and rob us of our very own sovereignity over our dreams and aspirations.

And that is why we dream and aspire towards fullfiling them, instead of letting their flame be quashed with the wind.

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