Sooner or later our bodies will betray us. It is a sad but inescapable fact. That which we take for granted for much of our lives will one day declare its independence. Cells that have long replicated in an orderly fashion, will suddenly go hogwild, mulitplying in an orgy of growth that we call cancer. Hearts that have always pumped along steadily, will shudder and seize. Brains will grow sluggish, the neurons twisiting into to tangled masses, muddling memories and mangling thoughts. Bones, skin, and blood vessels are found vulnerable to impact at high speed. And the body we use and abuse with little thought will betray us. Perhaps we can woo it back for a time, if God wills it, but one day, the body will simply walk way, finished and leave us with. . .nothing.
Depressing? Perhaps, but it isn't a little silly to say that I'm being unnecessarily bleak? Isn't that a form of denial? "Why all the gloom and doom? It's not like we're all destined for death. . .geez."
The irony, though, is that recognizing rather than avoiding this reality can make for a more positive outlook on life. After all, when we recognize that health and life itself is not a given, we are compelled to truly appreciate each day that our bodies remain faithful. When you are faced, as I was about a week ago, with the possibility that the betrayal is upon us, you suddenly find that all the things you were so stressed about--the work you had to do, the disarray of the house, this little peevance and that little annoyance really don't matter that much. Why not live that way all the time--with an attitude of gratitude for health and strength and life itself--rather than waiting till it might be too late, until the body threatens to turn against us.
When I woke up with the unbearable pain in my chest, and the hours that followed where I began to wonder incredulously, if I, a young, active man, might actually be facing the betrayal--much earlier than I ever expected, I found I wanted to live. Not just for myself, but mostly for my son who needs a father. After all, he gets broken up about me leaving for work--how can I break my promise that "Daddy will see you tonight?" I wanted to live for my wife--how could I leave her to parent alone, carrying a burden of grief and loss. Fortunately, after a normal EKG and chest x-ray came back and the diagnosis was a simple case of inflamed rib cartilige or perhaps a touch of pleurisy, it became apparent that betrayal was not yet at hand. But in the wake of that false alarm, I determined to remain committed to fully appreciating my life, trying to keep the ordinary complaints and frustrations in their proper perspective. I also found a renewed appreciation for the hope of eternal life--a promise that often loses its luster when we begin to buy into the delusion that our bodies are beyond betrayal, that life as we know it as endless.
To fully live in the now, to paradoxically "forget that I have a chest" (as my manically enthusiastic doctor described it) by remembering that I do is my goal from here on out. The betrayal is sure to come someday, but in the meantime, let me take joy in this moment, let me relish the love of my son and the embrace of my wife, let me take comfort in the presence of God, let me enjoy good food, good friends, a nice run. Let me celebrate the sunshine, rejoice in the rain, find peace in drifting snow. Let me take pleasure in my work and the daily round of chores. Let me sing, sleep, read, listen, laugh, and yes, eat, love and pray. Today is a gift. Let me accept it with joy.