Monday, May 2, 2011
Quantity or quality? What’s your choice: a long life, say, well into your 90s, with the concomitant deprivations and mental and physical diminutions , or a lifespan shorter by perhaps 15 to 25 years, where you will eat, drink and partake of semi-licit substances, cross against the lights, walk in storms sans ombrelle, and challenge waterfalls in a barrel?
I’ve already had two almost-bought-it-for-good experiences in my life, both when I was in my 20s. I nearly drowned in the Chesapeake during a storm that swamped the small boat I was sailing. I went overboard, the boat turned over on me and I was trapped beneath it for what were seconds but seemed like hours. I went under twice, kicked back to the surface and hung on to a halyard that had broken loose. Other boaters came to my rescue but the water was rough enough that it took almost 20 minutes to get me to safety. The second instance happened when I was riding my motorcycle back from a trip to Canada with a friend. We were in upstate New York near the Finger Lakes, cruising through one of the national parks. It was dark and I hit a deer, an eight-point stag that leaped into the road from nowhere. I flew over the bikes, landed on my side and skidded about twenty yards. The bike followed and sparks ignited the gas tank which was mercifully almost empty. I saw myself (a common near-death phenomena) arcing through the air, landing with a thump. I saw my helmeted head bounce off the pavement, my eyes wide and strangely nor frightened. My friend pulled me away from the bike and miraculously managed to hail a passing car. I ended up in Ramapo General Hospital, no broken bones but scraped and seriously bruised. The bike was totaled and the deer was butchered and sent to an orphanage, or so I was told. The cop who investigated the accident told me about a dozen or so bikers had died on that stretch of road in the last decade.
So me, I don’t know. Basically, at the very least seventy-five percent of my life is done, and I am entering that phase where I am told I should really take care. Cancer, cholesterol, diabetes, back issues, psoriasis, chronic sneezing, high blood pressure and God knows what other vagaries are lurking, still in the shadows but no longer fully hidden. Additionally, we (I use the term generically) have entered an interesting period in gustatory history where essentially almost everything we eat, drink and breathe has been declared partially or fully noxious. If sugar were to be created now, I have been told, the FDA would probably classify it as a dangerous substance. Wheat and gluten are bad, as are all white foods such as rice, flour and potatoes. Meat, particularly cooked on charcoal, is dangerous, and fish carry mercury. According to a recent study, a frightening amount of the chicken we eat is so full of the noxious e coli bacteria that it’s a wonder we haven’t all keeled over with our faces in KFC buckets. Most oils are bad. So are the additives, colorings and sweeteners we ingest by the gallon because we like pretty and syrupy foods. Canned foods are aswim in preservatives, hydroponic veggies never make contact with soil, dairy products are hell on the lactose-intolerant, and peanuts cause anaphylactic shock.
In the past few months I have given up (mostly) white bread, rice, sugar, and artificial sweeteners. I don’t smoke or drink alcohol of any kind, and I verge on the ridiculous when it comes to avoiding drugs, be they over-the-counter, prescription or illegal. I am not a vegetarian, and don’t plan to become one even though my intake of meat is sparse. Once a week I have breakfast with friends and eat far too much pork products, but that’s about it. I go through a bag of radish every three days or so and regularly eat apples and oranges. I have not given up cheese. I am, after all, French. I have discovered that brown rice and pink (yes, pink) beans with a dash of sour cream makes a great meal. I no longer have a motorcycle as I’ve realized my reflexes are not what they once were, and I doubt I’ll ever again speed along at 30 miles per hour on a pair of inline skates. The idea of a crash at that speed makes me shudder, which it did not ten years ago.
I suppose the question is how much we are willing to give up—on any level—before we realize that it ain’t worth it anymore. It’s going to be an interesting choice!