Friday, April 29, 2016

You Aren't What You Eat

I've been forced to spend much of my life arguing Nature versus Nurture. I grew up in a family where I was the odd child out. It turned out only half my genes came from that family unit. The other half from who-knows-who, a man, a name, a shadowy memory. Perhaps he was the wanderer filled with curiosity because I was born into a family of people who never moved from home. Why was I born a wanderer? 

I moved to a country where self-realization is the key to a happy life. If you are poor or unhappy or lost in America, it's all your fault. You do the unthinkable here, you pull yourself up by your bootstraps; even if my Crocs had bootstraps I know not how to pull myself up by my shoes. I imagine impoverished Hungarian immigrants in a jerky black and white movie hopping around the Bowery bent double clutching their bootstraps in an effort to get ahead. But like all the myths the image only makes sense Shen you know what was behind it. 

To imagine that our Fate lies in the stars is a popular form of myth and people study horoscopes with the intensity they should bring to studying politics of how to drive a car with panache. A horoscope makes sense to a human overwhelmed by the world but in daily living it makes no sense at all, but it makes life seem easier, so... And yet it seems to me the people who tell us they want to live a long life, thus they ponder what they eat find themselves in the territory of that other myth, the one that says you are what you eat. This one too seeks to make sense of a world out of control. 

An acquaintance, an angry atheist called Doug, once asked a religious person in a debate among travelers (we were sailing through Mexico) why is there a God if we have genes? The question seems odd at first glance but the more I thought about it the more profound became the implications. Faced with a physical trainer who espouses wheat juice and raw food for longevity and health I find the question of genetics even more profound. 

None of us wants to be helpless even though in large measure we are, but once you accept the role of genetics the idea Fate plays a role in your life becomes impossible to ignore. When I watched my mother die of a powerful brain tumor I was certain I would not outlive her 49 years by much if at all. Generations of her family died young. Yet here I am much to my surprise pushing sixty without a care in the world. I have a little arthritis in my left thumb, which being left handed comes as no surprise to the doctor who diagnosed it. Wear and tear he said to the man who spent a lifetime holding a pen, shifting motorcycle levers and pushing back against life with his left hand. 

That I have genes does not preclude me from taking a hand in maintaining myself for the long haul. I have health insurance so I follow preventative health care protocols, I have taken to exercising fiercely with a man whose view of life involves very little science apparently. A belief in eating well is balanced by a belief in psychic nonsense, a man who has no curiosity about the world outside Old Town but who cares deeply how he is viewed in Facebook, that random window on the world outside. He hates my politics and loves my determination to do the exercises exactly as prescribed. He is a paradox, he is human. 

I don't think exercise will help me necessarily to live longer but I think it will make the time left better. I will ride a motorcycle longer and I will keep my bones stronger and I will be able I hope to keep my mind engaged. But I don't think that whatever is preparing to kill me will be put off by a diet of celery and kale. 

Moderation helps I think, and common sense combined with curiosity and the ability to tamp down fear. Fear is at the heart of our irrational selves and that in the end trumps nature and nurture.