“None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.” ~ Henry David Thoreau.
My father Pearce was a picky eater. I don’t know when it began, but definitely by the time I was a teen I was aware of it. In restaurants he would stick to what he knew. The most adventurous he would be (in Jamaica) was to eat curried chicken. Where I once put his pickiness down to a character flaw, being overly cautious and a little afraid of new experiences (which, considering that at age 43 he picked up his entire family and moved from England to Jamaica is not very fair), I now wonder if there was a physical reason for his pickiness. In later years he often had a painful attack of hiccups during meals, he also had some esophageal problems which, for all I know, had existed for many years.
I have recently had my own encounter with gastro-intestinal symptoms (too boring to spell out here) and have begun to be more careful about my food choices. Where I once chose foods out of interest, trying everything from gator chunks in the Everglades to mutton stew on the Hopi Reservation, I now pick gingerly and eat mindfully. In my meat-eating years (I have been mostly plant-based for almost a year now) I didn’t much care what I ate. In Jamaica (and at Jamaican functions anywhere in the world) you will be offered delicious but not-for-the-faint-of-heart soups: mannish water (main ingredient goat-head – best if burnt first!) and the even scarier (don’t ask, please) cow-cod soup. Fish tea, pepperpot soup, beef soup (full of pumpkin to give it that rich, orange color) all seasoned with plenty of thyme, skellion (scallion or green onion), scotch bonnet pepper and full of other staples such as dumpling, yam, green banana, potato and more are all examples of savory, filling, aromatic meals.
With my GI symptoms being resistant to my own ministrations (avoiding this, trying that) I finally broke down and resorted to seeing my physician and getting my referral. Several months later we have not quite decided completely what’s going on but have eliminated most of the scariest possibilities. But in the meantime I decided to keep a diary of my food intake and my symptoms (again, boring stuff).
But what it made me become was far more mindful of my meal choices, of how I eat, and what else is going on in my life. I also realized that it is not age that makes us old, it is having to deal with a body that we cannot take for granted. Even the very young, when dealing with a chronic condition, mature quickly and become very old for their years. It is ill-health that makes us old, not appearance, not wrinkles, not a number.
This week as the country reels from the latest episode of our fake reality show, where the bizarre and outrageous have become mundane, I was blessed to be a part of an event, set in Historic downtown Fort Lauderdale, a museum I had only recently visited for the first time at the end of last year. My schoolmate and friend Audrey Peterman, who very kindly insists on introducing me as being far behind her in school (it was something like 4 years, but who’s counting!) was launching her book ‘From My Gully to the World’ at the museum. It was a particularly appropriate setting as she and her husband had lived in their boat on the river just a few blocks from the museum. They had also been heavily involved in the vibrant community that defends National Parks, and fights for diversity in these amazing spaces. Her talk was peppered with tales of growing up in ‘country’, in the rural life of Jamaica, where nature and plenty abound. I cannot do justice to her book in a paragraph, but she found her purpose and mission after she and husband Frank took off on a cross country tour taking in some of the amazing national parks (Bryce, Yosemite, Grand Canyon and way more!). Not only were they amazed by the beauty, they were struck by the lack of representation of African Americans. People who had contributed so much to the development of these parks did not seem to know about them.
The couple have been involved at boardroom level with many organizations, fighting to have a voice for the silent. They have been to Congress, to state capitols, and founded organizations to spread the word from coast to coast, from sea to shining sea. It was her description of her ‘epiphany’ that prompted my thought thread for this week. She described being struck in awe, by the beauty of the Creator’s creation as she stood at the top of Cadillac Mountain in Maine. She took in the expanse of the land, the beauty of the sea, the glint of the sun as it sparkled on the water, and in that moment recognized the world as perfect and beautiful, and that if she was created by the same Creator, then she, and everyone in the world, must be perfect and beautiful too.
It may be challenging at times to keep saying that mantra, since we are also human and prone to ugly acts, but perhaps by seeing beauty in others we can help them see beauty in themselves and stop them from acting so ugly! There is a saying: ‘God don’t like ugly’ (said in my best Ebonics imitation), a suggestion that aligns with the concept of Karma. In Audrey I not only see beauty and perfection, I see a vibrancy and youthful exuberance that will keep her young till the end of her days. And if she gets that from visiting National Parks, perhaps it is a prescription we all can follow! After all, more and more studies are demonstrating the healing effects of Mother Nature.
This weekend may you see youth and vigor when you look in the mirror! May your physical complaints give you an appreciation of what you have, make you more mindful of your choices and actions. Remember that dancing has also been shown to keep us healthy, to age young instead of aging old! And may you see yourself as Audrey does, beautiful and perfect.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!