You learn interesting things when you go poking through biographies.

Sacks never talked about his love life in his books, aside from a few stray comments that implied that at one point, he'd had one. I did wonder from time to time, but given the depth and breadth of the things he did share, it felt ungrateful to perseverate on the one he'd decided not to. So I didn't.

I was interested to note that when he passed away a few months ago, he left a partner behind: Bill Hayes, another author who published essays at The New York Times. I found I was very glad to hear that. Sad for Hayes, but you know what I mean. Not that romance is the be-all and end-all of human existence, but Sacks had opted out of it for many, many years. I am glad that he lived through enough time and tide and social change that when he found he wanted that kind of connection, he also found he was free to take it.

I gather it was not easy. There are a few years between Hayes writing tactfully of, "my friend, Oliver," and Sacks writing openly of, "my lover, Billy." But in the end, he did. And it turned out to be much easier than he'd feared. Sometimes, the world really does put itself to rights before you get there.

Hayes is also a photographer, with a specialization in people and portraits. He did quite a few of Sacks, near the end of his life. I recommend not reading any of the comments on those unless you need a good soppy cry. There are a lot of perfect strangers, many of them in imperfect English, coming in to say, 'I read so much of his writing, I'm so glad he found you, and I'm so sorry he's gone.'

The science community has decided its memorial to Sacks will be to make some of his research freely available. Sacks' formal work goes back considerably farther than Elsevier's online archives, but those papers that are online are available here until December. Unsurprisingly, Sacks' specialty was case studies. His solo efforts are not so different from his books -- he uses first-person in his observational write-ups (most clinicians don't, and it tends to be deprecated as un-science-like), and his work for the general public is notorious for having similarly weighty bibliographies. They are all plainly by a man who read, and saw patterns in, absolutely everything.

Comments