My father was the original health nut.
Diagnosed with pre-diabetes in his thirties, he went on a personal crusade to prevent illness from attacking him or his family.
One day, we were eating TV dinners and spreading a thick layer of salt on our Salisbury steaks. The next day, salt was banned from our table, sugar-containing products removed from our home, and beef became a special event food.
My father began jogging regularly, took up meditation and stress-reduction, and read new, earth-shattering books like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Frances Moore Lappe’s Diet for a Small Planet.
During the week, my father was a blue suit, white shirt wearing accountant. On the weekends, he donned Earth shoes and dungarees while he made his own granola with nuts, oats and honey.
It was the early 1970s.
He had his moments of breaking from his healthy lifestyle, but for the next thirty years, he continued to jog regularly, eat carefully, limit his stress, and research how to stay healthy and live a long life.
My mother, while not particularly interested in the whole health culture, respected my father’s theories and supported the health practices that he did on his own and that he insisted upon in our household. She stopped buttering vegetables and often cooked chicken with the skin removed. She put up with his smelly running shoes and sweaty laundry. She even started walking around the block with him at night to get her own daily exercise.
For the next thirty years, she lived a much healthier life than she’d known before my father went on his crusade. She didn’t do it perfectly either, but she tried her best and she never went back to convenience foods as a staple in her diet.
She also took care of her health in a different way. She followed recommendations that most of us ignore. Despite her not loving doctors’ appointments, she met with her general doctor and her ob/gyn for full physicals annually, and she religiously went to the hospital for her annual mammogram.
A + B Doesn’t Always Equal C
Why do I tell you all this about my parents’ health habits?
Because I am angry.
Even I, a constant critic of the ever-changing, get healthy, self-help culture, began to believe that if only I do what I am supposed to do, I will get the results I am supposed to get. I began to see the complexities of daily living in a woman’s magazine way. I became comfortable in the fact that my parents would live long and healthy lives because they took care of their bodies and minds.
But A + B doesn’t always equal C. We don’t always get the results we expect just because we follow the rules laid out by the establishment.
Seven years ago, my health nut father died of kidney cancer.
Seven days ago, my rule-following, doctor-visiting mother was diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer.
In our extended family, over many generations, cancer has not been a primary cause of death. We are not one of those families at high risk for this disease. Neither of my parents showed obvious symptoms or had their illnesses diagnosed by doctors until their cancers had already metastasized. My parents’ cancers came without warning.
The point of all of this is not to say “Woe is me.” I don’t know a single person who has not been affected by this horrible disease in one way or another: they’ve lost a family member or friend or contracted cancer themselves. I recognize that the world is full of stories of people inflicted by diseases that either kill them or make their lives incredibly difficult. I know many who have lost once perfectly healthy family members or friends to accidents or substance abuse problems or mental illness. Suffering and pain and death exist always, impact our lives.
I’m putting this down because I am trying to make sense out of something I simply cannot get my head around.
I keep thinking about the philosophy class I took in college and the first time I came across the Myth of Sisyphus. We read an essay by Albert Camus that compares the absurdity of our lives with the situation of Sisyphus, a figure of Greek mythology who was condemned to repeat forever the same meaningless task of pushing a boulder up a mountain, only to see it roll down again.
The following comes from the Wikepedia summary of Camus’ essay:
“It is not the world that is absurd, nor human thought: the absurd arises when the human need to understand meets the unreasonableness of the world, when “my appetite for the absolute and for unity” meets “the impossibility of reducing this world to a rational and reasonable principle.”
And, another quote from this entry:
“If the world were clear, art would not exist.”
This gives me great comfort. I am somebody who has always struggled with the realities of our existence, and I am forever in debt to my family, my mother in particular, for sharing with me her love of art in all of its forms, because I have come to realize over the years that the one thing that truly transports me from these daily struggles is my love for and appreciation of art, music, literature, theater.
I wonder what the rest of you do to make peace with your world when you find it falling apart. Please share in the comments section of this post. Maybe we can all help each other.
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