This was a moving story about the effects of death, or more precisely, the effects of being confronted with death. The book caused me to consider what is most meaningful in my life and how I can ensure that my actions reflect that.

I found it particularly interesting how Paul described the way the proximity of his death affected the way he prioritized – given 10 years to live he wanted to return to neurosurgery, given 2 years he wanted to write, and given 6 months he wanted to be with family. That makes a lot of sense to me, but the tricky part is that none of us, even people like Paul who have terminal illnesses, never really know exactly how much time we have left. We can only do our best to fill our lives with meaningful pursuits.

When Breath Becomes Air also gave me a new respect for doctors, especially those like Paul (a neurosurgeon) who must help patients and their families navigate difficult life transitions. It seemed to me that, at least for Paul, being a neurosurgeon was as much about helping patients decide what mattered to them as it was about operating on them.