Along with getting lost and ripped off, falling sick is a rite of passage for any traveller in foreign lands.
A few weeks ago, I fell ill after eating a tasty, fattening dessert of pumpkin in coconut milk. It was soooooo good at the time, but it caused a complete upheaval in my system.
For the next three days, my stomach felt completely off, and I couldn’t eat more than one light meal a day. Since eating is one of my great pleasures in life, and my already thin frame was withering away under the reduced caloric intake, I became a whimpering puppy longing for the comforts of home. Bring me some soup in bed, please!
When the nausea began to subside and my appetite returned, I was ecstatic. You know that moment when you’ve turned the corner and you’re nearly recovered? It feels so amazing to regain your health! Much like after the Icelandic car accident incident , I was acutely aware of how lucky I was to be alive. As a result, at the first substantial meal I was able to take, I renewed my vow to say a prayer of gratitude as often as possible.
I steadfastly held to this resolution in the days following my recovery. But as things returned to normal, I lost the acute awareness of my incredible good fortune to be healthy and alive. The fervency of my prayer diminished and my forgetfulness returned.
Like lovers and tools, we usually take health for granted. We only realize how important it is when it’s gone. It’s ironic that the more proximate something is, the more its preciousness tends to be concealed.
As with life as a whole, our health can be taken away in an instant, even if we do all the ‘right’ things. My grandmother was a heavy smoker most of her life, but lived to her mid 70s without any smoking related diseases. Other people exercise, meditate, and eat well and get cancer in their 20s (or earlier).
Health and life don’t always work out the way we think it ‘should’. I was being super careful with the food and water I took and I still got sick (I had even eaten the same dessert at the same restaurant two days prior with no adverse effects). You may work your whole life, save fastidiously, spend prudently, and have your savings or pension taken away from you from forces outside your control (see Detriot’s proposed cut of pensions). You may dedicate all your time, energy, and creativity into a business or art project with the best intentions and still not receive the results you expected.
There are, of course, things you can do to improve your odds of maintaining good health. Similarly, there are guidelines you can follow that will generally lead to a happy, fulfilled life. But even if you follow these suggestions, results aren’t guaranteed.
We are all at the whim of large, impersonal forces out of our personal control. Despite everything that could kill us at any moment (falling coconuts, slippery ice, crazy drivers meteors, bacteria) we still wake up every day and (highly likely if you are reading this) have enough to eat.
Reflecting on the mystery of health opens our awareness to the mystery of life. How is it that in your body at this very moment, hundreds of factors are all working in harmony to produce this moment of awareness? How is it that the atoms that compose this body were forged in the belly of exploding stars and have now managed to become self-aware?
Life just knows what to do. It goes on by itself.
Health also cues us in to how radically dependent we are on ‘other’ factors. Genes, environment, the food we take in: all of these were generated by factors other than ‘me.’ Everything in this universe exists in a web of mutual interrelation.