Having Sought and Found


When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalinithi
Random House, January 1, 2016

What does “lifelong learning” mean in the face of an unexpected but imminent end? In When Breath Becomes Air, his parting memoir, Paul Kalinithi grapples with the core of a question facing educators and students alike. At the age of thirty-six, in the final months of his training as a neurosurgeon, Kalinithi finds himself diagnosed with terminal cancer. Having devoted his life to studying for a career he will be unable to realize, he embarks on a quest through memory to identify those things in the course of his education that were integral to his determination of identity. Which experiences indeed provided meaning when seen in light of life’s final frames? Dealing specifically with the educational journey of a neurosurgeon, Kalinithi’s writing is applicable to educators guiding students in any field. Caught in the mechanics of schooling, we may easily lose sight of the deeper questions our students experience. As Kalinithi finds, process obscures its own end if students (or teachers) anchor their identity too firmly in work. When Breath Becomes Air offers an exquisitely crafted reflection on what it means to have sought – and found – that which is most important in education.

Submitted By: Nathan Vish, Georgetown Day School, Washington, DC

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