Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Crossroads and Conscience
In my nearly eternal search for dietary health and sanity, I've been trying a non-diet of clean foods with an emphasis on fruit and vegetables while slashing my intake of processed foods and limiting carbohydrates like bread and pasta. Rather than focusing on deprivation, I'm striving for balance and for learning to savor foods that are both healthy and delicious.
This afternoon, I headed to the supermarket for more raw vegetables for a salad and a few packets of frozen vegetables. But coming out of the frozen food section, I found myself staring at the bakery area. I felt the near-magnetic pull of bagels.
As I stood wrestling with my conscience, two different neighbors wandered by. The first smiled and admitted to a special trip to the market to satisfy her yearnings for a fistful of Hershey bars. Chocolate! I stared at her. She has kidney disease. Chocolate is high up on her list of forbidden foods. I wanted to say "But you know better...."
But there I was, checking out the bagels.
Another neighbor cruised by, not noticing our friendly greetings. He looked past us, muttering -- was it to himself or to us? -- "I came to get some cookies for a pig-out!" A pig-out??? He has diabetes with eye complications and cardiac problems.
What was this: death wish central?
And it made me think how often we sabotage our best efforts at healthy choices -- for the momentary pleasure instead of long-term benefits or to calm the anger or anxiety or a myriad of other troubling feelings that are, nonetheless, never quite stilled by guilty treats. Or maybe some simply are tired of trying so hard to avoid health disasters when these are looming so insistently. Sometimes we just give up trying so hard or trying at all.
So the diabetic man got his stash of cookies. I saw him later sitting in his car, about a block from his home, hunched over his loot and eating cookies quickly, furtively, in a binge that may or may not escape his wife's attention.
But blood sugar and potassium levels and weight are figures that don't lie. And those toxic lies we tell ourselves:
"Just this once..."
"A little won't hurt..."
"It doesn't really make that much difference..."
But it does make a difference.
A little can lead to a lot.
And this once can go on and on.
Our time, our window of opportunity to turn things around isn't infinite. Our chances to improve our health and prospects for a more mobile and vigorous old age are dwindling with every cheat and treat and positive change deferred.
I looked at my neighbors. They're in their seventies and are starting to have severe health problems as a result of their chronic conditions. I'm only a year away from that perilous decade with some health challenges of my own -- high blood pressure and pre-diabetes -- that could grow into major life-limiting/life-threatening health problems unless I commit to a new way of eating and living.
And I wondered: what were we doing to ourselves -- seeking out great quantities of cookies and chocolate and bagels?
A little step toward health today might help to prevent a devastating choice tomorrow.
A painful flashback hit me: just this morning, when I accompanied another neighbor Phyllis (whose kidney disease is an inherited malady) to her kidney dialysis session -- a painful ordeal she undergoes three times a week -- we saw a familiar figure emerging from the treatment area to the waiting room. The woman, in a wheelchair, looked considerably younger than either of us but has already lost a leg to diabetes and had been getting kidney dialysis for some time. Phyllis looked puzzled. It was only 6:15 and people were getting hooked up to the machines now. No one would be finished for some hours. We looked at the woman and her husband who was pushing the wheelchair. Their faces spoke of quiet grief and resignation as they left the building. Phyllis exhaled slowly. "She is quitting dialysis," she said quietly. "She hasn't been wanting to continue for a while..." She bit her lip. We both knew that the last person who made the choice to quit dialysis was dead a week later.
Sometimes, of course, health catastrophes are totally out of our control. Illness can strike regardless of the choices we make.
But at some junctures, we can choose to fight for health with wise, life-affirming choices. There are small crossroads in our lives, moments when one healthy choice can lead to another or one poor choice can also lead to another. There are times when we can step back, let our yearnings for health and vitality prevail over the toxic quick-fix. There are opportunities we have to do something different and better for ourselves.
There are times...
I put the bag of mini-bagels back on the shelf and walked quickly away.