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Book Review: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes AirWhen Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review written on 7th May 2021

We all know sorrow; but often it is in sorrow that we experience the most warmth. Human life is full of such paradoxes.

Nobody can take away your sorrow – but perhaps the most profound gift we can give to another person is to share in their sorrows.

When Breath Becomes Air is one of those rare books which invites you to share in its sorrows. It does so with no agenda – not to prove a point, or to give you shallow words of encouragement – but to show you the path that remains to be trodden, and to show you how to tread this path with integrity, honour and vulnerability – and above all, love.

This book is heartbreaking, but it is also heartwarming.

I am reminded of a Hasidic tale:

“A disciple asks the rebbe: ‘Why does Torah tell us to “place these words upon your hearts?” Why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts?’ The rebbe answers: ‘It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks and the words fall in’.” ~ Hasidic tale*.

My heart broke countless times reading this book – it took me half a year to read. It took me 4 months just to get around to reading the epilogue written by his wife. It was daunting, like a letter waiting on your shelf that you know you need to open, but you’re not ready to yet. I knew I had to wait for the right moment to read the epilogue – this wasn’t toilet reading.

This morning happened to be the right moment. I woke up irritable, daunted by the mass of free time that is slowly opening itself up to me as the university semester ends and the long summer begins. After spending some time fretting over the upcoming months, hashing together plans, I saw the proverbial letter on my shelf, and I surrendered.

My heart broke – but the words fell in. In sharing in Paul’s sorrow, I feel comforted in my own sorrow. I feel warm. I feel encouraged. Thank you, Paul. Godspeed.

* Credits to Carlos Badosa: https://sunmyungmoonessays.wordpress….

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