Bad Things Can Happen to Good People

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A recent story from a friend brought this into relief recently. She told of a loved one who had dutifully looked after her health, did all the right things, and nevertheless contracted a potentially fatal cancer. Luckily, she is alright now, but my friend told me that as a result of the experience, she had decided that no matter what you do about your health, you can still get seriously sick. She still saw the value in healthy living, but the impression I got was that she had gotten over the somewhat naive expectation that if we take care of ourselves just so, and do everything right, nothing bad can happen to us. That mindset can lead to a restrictive obsession with doing things just right, for fear of slipping up and having something go wrong.

In the real food and traditional medicine community, we hear stories all the time about people who come down with life-threatening diseases, then switch their diets and are miraculously cured. Not so popular, but present nonetheless, are those who eat real, traditional foods, but still get into trouble. How do we explain this? The human body is an imperfect system, and our environments are chaotic and uncontrollable. No matter how healthy we live, there is no way we can control every variable.

In general, I think it is important to keep our expectations under control. I have certainly gotten into the mindset at times that I am immune to whatever life throws my way because I take such great care of myself. Life's response is usually to throw something very heavy my way, just to remind me that there are plenty of ways to be debilitated besides traditional illness. When I do get into those mindsets, I find myself becoming overprotective of my routines and habits, to the point that they become entrapping. There is no point in clinging so tightly to one's healthy eating habits - which were developed to promote health in the service of greater happiness - if doing so requires so much trouble that we lose all hope for happiness. You don't eat healthy out of principle; you do it because you believe it contributes something to your life or helps you accomplish something greater.

On the other hand, I have had people come out and tell me straight out that I'm wasting my time with all my concern over living healthfully. They regale me with stories of their youth, when they were in 'the best shape of their lives, eating perfectly' and nevertheless came down with a chronic disease that is with them now, leading them to sagely give up their healthy habits and make the most of their easy access to ice cream. These people usually come off as bitter and extremely condescending, at least from my perspective. It seems ridiculous to postulate that behavior has no impact on ultimate health outcomes. That's like saying that there's no point in wearing seatbelts because you were in a car accident once and still were injured even though you had your seatbelt on. My response: "sorry to hear that, but it's pretty well accepted that seatbelts make cars safer. Maybe you wore it wrong, maybe you got hit at the wrong angle. Maybe you're just unlucky." I'm certainly not going to stop wearing my seatbelt. Even if I got in a car accident and was crippled, I'd still wear my seatbelt in future. People like this tend to hold a grudge against life's unpredictable nature, gloating in their refusal to take wise precautions or show a concern for anything but their narrow view of enjoying life.

Despite the above rant, I think it is important to accept that healthy habits are not a guarantee of perfect health. When it comes down to it, we all die someday. No amount of kale or exercise will prevent that. It might postpone it, but it might not. All that I can say for sure is that it will improve the quality of life. But eating healthy was never about cheating death or sickness anyway. It is about getting the most out of life that you can, in the moment. Calamity can strike at any moment, from within or without, so it is naive to expect that we can protect ourselves completely.

Health is certainly an important goal for a Warrior to pursue, but it is important to keep in mind that health, like everything else in a Warrior's life, should serve a larger purpose. Warriors ought to be involved in their lives, rather than simply preparing all the time or protecting their hard-earned skills and abilities instead of actually using them. My friend's comment on the unpredictable nature of health was kind of an eye-opener for me. It reminded me of a lesson I had learned but forgotten: the more we try to control our lives, the less control we actually have. The best a Warrior can do is train hard and maintain awareness, all the while accepting that in the end, she has no real control over life. By trying to control everything, we find ourselves emotionally tied to outcomes we have little influence over, and then become slaves to circumstances. But by instead accepting our lack of control, we gain some control because at least our response is no longer tied to external events. We are then left to respond in the best manner possible, given the circumstances. Do your best with what resources and motivation you have, and then just enjoy life.

Image source: steingro on Flickr

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic, since it is one that confronts all people who work hard only to find their endeavors rendered moot by random circumstance. Post thoughts to comments.