My Periodic Table
July 24, 2015 7:43 PM   Subscribe

Bismuth is element 83.
I do not think I will see my 83rd birthday, but I feel there is something hopeful, something encouraging, about having “83” around. Moreover, I have a soft spot for bismuth, a modest gray metal, often unregarded, ignored, even by metal lovers. My feeling as a doctor for the mistreated or marginalized extends into the inorganic world and finds a parallel in my feeling for bismuth.
Oliver Sacks on dying. (SLNYT)
posted by gaspode (20 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
A beautiful article — and, perhaps unintentionally, a reminder that you can find beauty in unexpected places, like the humble bismuth crystal.
posted by reluctant early bird at 8:06 PM on July 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Bismuth really can be quite beautiful. I hope Dr. Sacks meets his end peacefully and without regret.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 8:09 PM on July 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


For some unknown reason my relatives got into this periodic table = age thing with my nephew’s birthday on July 10th. (He just turned ruthenium. The others on our list ranged from lithium to tantalum.)

My nephew’s comment: "The best part is you just get weirder and more unstable the older you get."
posted by LeLiLo at 9:14 PM on July 24, 2015 [52 favorites]


I'm Krypton

must find Superman
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:17 PM on July 24, 2015


Perhaps we should say 'honorary Mefite Oliver Sacks' - he's been on the blue a lot previously.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 10:51 PM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


(And on FanFare.)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 10:53 PM on July 24, 2015


Man, somehow I get more sad reading about Oliver Sacks being mortally ill than I did about my own father's recent death. Sacks is a treasure and I wish we could get another book from him every year or two forever.

There's a connection... one of the last books my Dad read was by Sacks. I had given him Uncle Tungsten a couple years ago, and he loved it. My brother gave him another recent book of his, and he didn't like it quite so much... too much talk about cancer and other terrible losses.

(My Dad made it to Americium, if you're curious.)
posted by zompist at 11:17 PM on July 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


Thank you for posting this. It reminded me that I need to go out back and spend some time just looking at the stars.
posted by kinnakeet at 1:04 AM on July 25, 2015


There is significance for death in the element bismuth: it has the highest atomic weight that is still stable.

That radioactivity in polonium is the point at which the universe's laws say "after bismuth, even the elements are mortal."
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 1:37 AM on July 25, 2015 [22 favorites]


On review, bismuth is only practically immortal: its half-life is measured as longer than the current age of the universe. The point still stands: bismuth is the boundary between life or death in atomic chemistry.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 1:43 AM on July 25, 2015 [5 favorites]




I like Sachs, but find his farewell essays dismal and uninspiring.
posted by rmmcclay at 5:51 AM on July 25, 2015


Very good and sad
posted by glaucon at 6:17 AM on July 25, 2015




I like Sachs, but find his farewell essays dismal and uninspiring.

Here's your 💫.
posted by wotsac at 8:35 AM on July 25, 2015


I like Sachs, but find his farewell essays dismal and uninspiring.

Death is a dismal reality. The only inspiration it sensibly yields is the inspiration to live well while there is time left.

My mother has always said that she wants to have the hymn 'Glad That I Live Am I' sung at her funeral, on the basis that the one thought that can unite the attendant mourners is the relief that, at least on this occasion, it's some other poor bugger in the box. If I am lucky enough to outlive her, it is a request I will proudly fulfill.
posted by howfar at 8:53 AM on July 25, 2015


I enjoyed this essay, and may this half life we live on Earth turn out that our energies chose to enliven some chemisty, for a very brief span set against the reality of our eternal essence.
posted by Oyéah at 9:16 AM on July 25, 2015


His autobiography On The Move is really remarkable. I think I have read all or nearly all of his other books. But I did not know before I read this one that he was gay... Or one time muscle-beach body-builder, a motorcycle enthusiast. I did not know that he had a brother with schizophrenia. I did know a little bit about his use of recreational drugs, from the book Hallucinations but not how they fit into the context of his life as a doctor and a writer. I did not know the extent to which he sacrificed a traditional career in medicine in order to write the books he wrote. In short, I didn't realize how daring and unconventional his life was. And he writes about it with the same lyrical, observational, non-judgemental style that with which he writes about his patients.
posted by OnceUponATime at 12:58 PM on July 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


I had absolutely no idea that Sacks was gay. Erasure, eh?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:01 PM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have a bismuth pendant that gets lots of positive comments every time I wear it.
posted by essexjan at 1:58 AM on July 26, 2015


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