Denying Death

Most Americans have a morbid lifestyle due to their overeating and inactivity, but a large percentage of the population are health nuts who want to live a long, healthy life. I used to be that guy. I was very neurotic about what I ate, even going without meat for two periods of my life. I didn’t go so far as only eating organic foods, but I avoided processed meats and snacks with ingredients I couldn’t pronounce. I boycotted McDonald’s. I thought hot dogs were made by the devil. I moderated my drinking and did my best to avoid second-hand smoke. I dutifully exercised three times a week for 30 minute increments.

Today I’ll eat hot dogs and ham. I’ll eat McDonald’s breakfast if I happen to be up at an early hour. I’ll spend four hours in a smokey club. You want to go for a jog? Hmm, how about we grab a beer instead? I drink like a fish if I’m in the mood. I’m not careful in order to live a long life. Everything I do is to either help me accomplish my current goals or to feel good today. I eat a diet that gives me energy… today. I maintain a figure that is attractive to women… today. I lift weights to boost my testosterone levels… today. I take multi-vitamins to avoid getting colds… today. I don’t care how long I live unless today is the best day I can make it.

So I don’t understand when my peers say they want to live until they’re 100, completely rearranging their life and experimenting with supplements that give no guarantee that they will live even a day longer than compared to a more “unhealthy” lifestyle. Living today for a tomorrow that may not come is living based on fear. Accepting death, something that happens to us all, actually turns out to be a lot easier than staying on top of the latest fad diet or health news that invariably contradicts yesterday’s health news. Accepting death forces you to chase your dreams now instead of postponing. Adopting a healthy lifestyle is nothing more than a postponement lifestyle, a fancy way of procrastination.

A great article in New York Magazine perfectly shows America’s denial of death…

The traditional exits, of a sudden heart attack, of dying in one’s sleep, of unreasonably dropping dead in the street, of even a terminal illness, are now exotic ways of going. The longer you live the longer it will take to die. The better you have lived the worse you may die. The healthier you are—through careful diet, diligent exercise, and attentive medical scrutiny—the harder it is to die.

Attempts to delay death now may do nothing but increase your suffering in the end. Many will put a lot of hard work in their 20s running on a treadmill like a hamster to finish out a couple extra years in a nursing home, unable to even remember who they are due to cognitive decline. I’ll take the massive coronary instead.

This is not just a drawn-out, stoic, and heroic long good-bye. This is human carnage. Seventy percent of those older than 80 have a chronic disability, according to one study; 53 percent in this group have at least one severe disability; and 36% have moderate to severe cognitive impairments; you definitely don’t want to know what’s considered to be moderate impairment.

What a crappy deal. All that medical advancement and progress in longevity to become a shadow of your human self. This is what people are signing up for when they run their yearly marathon and practically starve themselves with a vegan diet. You can’t even smoke a cigarette these days without someone thinking you’re a complete moron.

One evening, almost three years ago, getting into the shower, she caught her lagging foot on the rail of the shower door and went down into the tub. She lay there, shivering in the tepid water until morning, when her neighbor became alarmed. There is a precept here, which no doctor quite spells out: once it has begun, it has begun; decline follows decline; incident precedes incident.

My views on death changed when I lived with my dad next to a retirement community of elderly rich people. Even though many had the best care available to them, including nubile African and Thai nurses, being over 75 is brutal. It’s not like Jack Lalane doing 100 pushups. It’s not ballroom dancing in tuxedos. The most fit, strapping young American men in their prime were now getting wheeled in before me, or walking at a pace so slow you can’t help but get agitated when stuck behind them. With most of their friends and relatives dead, it’s a lonely place to be. Their adult children, who should be the bright spot of their lives, treat them like children who must be endured. Like the author of the article, many can’t wait until they die.

Sadly, they have nothing to look forward to in life except death. Their brain is going, they aren’t mobile, and they’ve lost the ability to do their hobbies. The highlight of their day is straining to read the paper or talking to random people like me about the good old days.

… the purpose of long-term-care insurance is to help finance some of the greatest misery and suffering human beings have yet devised. […] ‘Old age,’ says one of Philip Roth’s protagonists, ‘isn’t a battle, it’s a massacre.’ I’d add, it’s a holocaust.

My dad would always tell me and my sister that he doesn’t want to be a burden on everyone if he gets old. “Don’t worry about taking care of me, just let me go.” Of course we would object, but he saw what I now realize: it’s not worth living when you can no longer take care of yourself. There is no happiness in having to depend on others for things you used to do without thought and effort. You will come to a point in your life—and I hope that it’s far off for you—where death isn’t a bad deal at all.

Often times I see some comments asking me why I’m “so negative.” Why don’t I just write about the wonderful parts of life and focus on all the good in the world? The reason is because there are negative aspects of life and the human experience that don’t go away if you close your eyes. Living life through a filter is not living life—it’s pretending. No matter how I look at it, living for today is the best thing I can do. So I don’t want to read health news. I don’t want to know what chemicals are in the meat or in the water. I don’t want to do the paleo diet. I just want to enjoy this day that I have before me.

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