Life is simpler than you think. So is good health. Consider all the books on exercise, yet my 92 year-old mother-in-law, who still rides her bike every day, can boil it down to this: keep moving! And consider the millions spent on diet food, fads and books, yet the best advice I ever heard was from food maven Michael Pollan: eat food; not too much; mostly plants.
But two monsters threaten America’s health that I hear very little buzz about. The first takes our life away from us. The second ruins the life we have.
In all my years as a pastor, family lawyer and counselor, one killer stands out: loneliness. The cause of death listed on the coroner’s report may be heart failure, liver failure, drug overdose, self-inflicted gunshot wound or even cancer, but oftentimes the true killer goes unnamed. Technology has enabled Americans to be more connected than ever, yet depression and teen suicide are at alarming levels. Turns out that having a thousand Facebook “friends” does not translate into a thousand people who will come to your aid when the wheels fall off or, for that matter, even want to hang out or watch a movie. “60 Minutes” once did a segment on a village in Europe where scads of people lived past age 100. Their secret wasn’t diet, exercise or the local red wine. It was their connectedness. People were connected to friends and family and stayed connected. They drank coffee together, gardened together, played music together. They hung out. And lived to be a thousand.
The other great monster threatening our health and longevity is materialism. Greed, consumption, stuff. The answer, says legendary Rabbi Abraham Heschel, is a sabbath. Not so we can go to church, temple or mosque, though that might help us get connected and find a purpose bigger than ourselves. Heschel says a weekly sabbath – or period of complete rest – is necessary to escape America’s “clattering commerce” and “fury of acquisitiveness. Gallantly, ceaselessly, quietly, man must fight for inner liberty to remain independent of the enslavements of the material world.”
Ponder that: We want stuff. Think we need it. But we don’t.
Americans are masters at multi-tasking, but our Buddhist friends tell us to do one thing at a time. Our frenetic pace amounts to little more than a mad dash to nothing. Set aside the striving, shopping, wanting, political arguing, and nervous anxiety at least one day a week. Not for fireworks and somersaults, says Heschel, but to “mend our tattered lives.”
Go to Higgs or Smathers Beach. Take a stroll through the botanical garden and out White Street pier. Nap. Practice mindfulness. Do yoga. Pray, meditate, read poetry and set your sights on inner peace. Not so you’ll be more productive on Monday, though you probably will be. Do it for the sake of life. Yours.
Oliver Thomas is a USA Today columnist and retired American Baptist minister.