(Originally written in June of 2006)
I might suggest, that I not suggest. You see, I’m dying. Don’t cry, don’t cry, you’re dying too and I’m not crying for you. We’re all dying, we just won’t know when that moment will arrive until it arrives.
I think about dying more these days because like you and me, my father too is dying. Though in the case of my father I have a more clear idea of when; soon. Soon saddens me. Not just sadness for my father, but in my father’s proximity to death, I must look my own mortality in the eyes. This reflection haunts me.
My father left his home one afternoon several weeks to frequent the emergency room due to a an overwhelming, non-specific weakness in his body. This is a cyclical condition he has lived with for several years now; an increasing lack in mobility due to aging, poor eating, and a life of inactivity over the age of 75. On his way out of his front door enroute the hospital my father didn’t bother to turn off his television or lock the front door. He had been through this before and expected to be home, medications in hand, by dinner time. He had no idea that he would never return home.
He is now bed-bound and in nursing care where he will live out all his days, unable to ever regain his mobility. He now toggles between bed, a recliner, and a motorized scooter, with no in-between inbetween but for the sturdy shoulders of his care takers — to lean upon during the transitions. All time is spent at rest, and rest is not as comfortable for him as that word implies.
Me and Pops, Jan. 2009. I'm the one in the red shirt...
It wasn’t always that way, my father was once my age and he was active. I remember my father one Sunday morning when I was a child; he was standing over a pot of red sauce boiling over on to the stove top below. He was making his own ketchup because he didn’t want to ingest all the sugar that was in the store bought ketchup. Eating well mattered to my father back then and grilled swordfish and vegetables were the order of the day. I reflect on that memory frequently these days, as I regularly make my own salad dressings – not wanting to ingest the all the sugar from store-bought salad dressings. I think about the value of good eating vs. poor eating – of the value of exercise vs. stagnation and I wonder. But it’s a two-way contemplation.
I wonder that since we’re all dying anyway what is the point of fitness – of a fitness lifestyle…? Exercise and mindful eating are the great dilemmas in my life. If we get but one life to live, should it not be lived free, enjoyed, maximized, and fulfilled. A fitness lifestyle you see, is not exactly free. Fitness is restrictive, and can often charge a premium for one’s participation. Fitness; exercise, healthy foods, the planning involved, the dedication, time spent, and so-on, costs. It costs time, moments, and effort.
Here’s the core of this dilemma: I suggest that fitness can extend one’s life, and improve one’s quality of life. That’s always been my perception. Since I was a small boy I have wanted to live to be 100 years old – still driving at that age, still making love, and still tying my own shoes. Or two out of three anyway. The exchange rate for a life of exercise and fitness, I have thought, would pay large dividends well into my functional octogenarianism, and beyond.
I did the math recently, and now I’m not so sure. If I add up all my workout sessions of varying fitness disciplines I have done, and will continue to do through my adult to the age of say, 80 years old, it will equal some 21,000 hours (about 2.5 years) of exercise. What else could I have done with that time. What volunteer work, what studying, what conversations, what readings, what meaningful circumstances would be lost to exercise in the course of my life? And lost for what, better abs, better fitting jeans, or keeping the ability to tie my own shoes at 80?
Now time to subtract. If I subtract all the good times I have missed in favor of fitness, if I subtract all the good foods I’ve missed in favor of fitness, if I subtract all the moments of personal relationships I’ve forsaken in favor of fitness, my quality of life would too have suffered. Fitness in this context would keep me bound and not allowed me to maximize my human experiences and freedoms. When I consider all of this, it too saddens me.
Then, I remember the man I saw in the hospital bed last week in Las Vegas needing the help of two people to transcend from his bed into a chair, and I wonder still. I remember the time two years ago when I saw my father eating cannolis and slices of pizza at a Las Vegas buffet. He was already using a walker at the time, so he sent my daughter to retrieve his entrees and desserts for him – too difficult to do it himself.
So what is the answer to this conundrum? Moderation I suppose. Reasonable expectations, reasonable effort, reasonable sacrifice, and a reasonable investment in time in exercise and mindful eating. The reward? A reasonably long, reasonably healthy, and reasonably well enjoyed life – I guess.
There is no right or wrong here. I suggest that I not suggest. Should we expect fitness to lengthen our life, and to enhance our quality of life, it should be a commitment that is life long. Two and one-half years of exercise in the course of an 80+ year life is but a drop in the bucket at times, and a huge waste at other times. If we forsake fitness ideals in exchange for moments, we will definitely gather more moments; cannolis, pizzas, movies, and the like. In gathering those moments, we may also be setting us up for more moments – moments with care takers. Still, I wonder……