Who, not What
Excerpted from Insomniac City by Bill Hayes, ©2017:
Earlier, over dinner, O (Oliver Sacks) talking about his late friend Gaj– Carleton Gajdusek, a Nobel laureate in medicine– with great excitement and conviction, comparing him to Goethe, of whom it was said, O told me, “He had a nature. A nature.”
I thought I knew what O meant– O, who has always disliked being pigeonholed, typed, as simply one thing or another, doctor or writer, gay or not, Jewish or atheist, etc.– but I wasn’t completely sure and prodded him.
“A nature,” he repeated, as if that was the only way to say it. “He wasn’t this or that, fitted with so many labels, an ‘identity,’ like people today, but all aspects of him were of a piece– this is who he was, not what he was; a force of nature, I suppose.”