I consider myself a health conscience person. I don’t smoke or use drugs. I get moderate, regular exercise and try to eat a balanced diet. But I’ll admit; when it comes to health, and most other aspects of life, I pick and choose what to be neurotic about. I can’t be neurotic about everything because it’s not good for my mental health. Being neurotic about everything focuses our minds too darkly on trying to avoid death rather than how best to live life.
A passage in the novel, Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, struck me as profoundly insightful. It tells of an Indian doctor who practiced medicine in an impoverished African country before arriving in New York City. The first time this doctor had to tell an American patient there was nothing more medicine could do to cure his cancer and that he would likely die, the patient becomes incredulous that death is even a possibility. The doctor is perplexed by the American’s reaction in comparison to his African patients who were routinely amazed when told they were going to live.
Americans eschew certain foods, gulp down vitamins and hop aboard crazy train fitness regimens, not entirely because they want to live healthy lives, but because they fear death. But nutrition information can be as conflicting and convoluted as a
J.J. Abrams television series. We’re told certain foods are good and then bad, that taking vitamins is essential and then useless, that aerobic activity is better than weight training, but then again, no. And all of this conflicting information can only get you in a twist if you pursue trends more in hopes of avoiding death than living life.
A recent New York Times article repeats a common lament, “Why does everyone seem to have cancer?” The article goes on to provide some perspective. But more striking is when the writer asks, “If we win the war on cancer, what then will we die from?” It seems when people wring their hands over eating sugar or gluten or fat, what they really want is control. Control over life and when and how they will die.
This type of hand-wringing among people of faith is particularly puzzling to me. Isn’t the whole point of embracing a higher power to acknowledge that we have very little control over life and death? Life is a chronic condition of uncertainty except for one thing–the love of God for all people.
And if faithful people choose to wring their hands about something, shouldn’t it be over the plights of those who could indeed live longer if not for curable diseases caused by dirty drinking water, insufficient medical care or little access to nutritious food? Energy focused toward caring for others seems more fruitful than the paralyzing fear of eating a cookie.
So eat your fruits and vegetables. Drink plenty of water. Don’t smoke. Wear your seatbelt. And get adequate rest and exercise. Beyond that, try improving your mental health by being choosier about your neuroses. Or try worrying less in general. Instead, breathe and spend a few moments each day being amazed that you’re alive.