See how they run
I can’t get away from the feeling that we look like a bunch of hamsters, each jogging, running or walking on our individual treadmills…each in our own little private world, staring at the wall or out of the window or–as I have lately started doing out of sheer boredom–reading a book. Pushing things up and out with our arms and legs and pulling other things down…sweat pouring off our brows.
I’m talking about our thrice-weekly visit to cardiac rehab where 15 or so of us share a room filled with various instruments of torture.
Why do we do it? To get fit so that we can live longer I imagine. But I was recently–and unexpectedly–deeply disturbed by an article by Thomas Maeder in the magazine Red Herring (September 1, 2001). To start with, the article is entitled “Good Health Is Just a Costly Way to Die.” Now there’s a thought to ponder!
It goes on to say “Medical advances only change why, when and where we die and–until we die–how healthy we are and how much we spend.” Maeder quotes spokespersons at the National Institutes of Health who, he says, used to joke in private that “good health is just a slow way of dying”!
The thrust of the article is that health experts and policy makers are now questioning…the wisdom and costs of “mindlessly struggling” to extend life.
The nature of illness has changed since medicine, having found cures for previous killers, now looks for ways of dealing with other diseases that plague people living longer than they used to. In the early nineteen hundreds the top three causes of death were infectious diseases. These days, we are told, the top two blockbuster killers are cardiovascular disease and cancer. Among the fifteen primary causes of death in his country (according to the division of vital statistics at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention), cancer and cardiovascular disease are the only ones whose elimination would extend the life expectancy by more than a year.
Here’s a part of that report that grabbed me since heart problems have dogged me on and off for a few years now…
“…the number of people suffering from the condition (heart disease) has increased because a lot of people are now alive who wouldn’t have been” according to Daniel Callahan of the Hastings Center. I guess that is the good news, because my father died of heart disease at age 56 and I have outlived him by 11 years or so…to date. But what of the bad news? Read on…
George Lundberg, editor-in-chief of Medscape (an on-line medical resource) says, “If you don’t die of a heart attack you will live to get into the cancer range…and if your life is extended into your 80s, the chance of developing Alzheimer’s is about 50 percent.”
So, asks Mr. Maeder, “As we continue to extend life, which will it be: longer decline and costly disability, or a healthy life with a sudden end?”
The point? Life is a precious gift and, if God is gracious in allowing us to live longer and healthier lives (with or without the skilled help of physicians) then there must be a purpose to it. It’s not something to be wasted…or whittled away. The value of life lies, surely, in its ministry to others…whatever form this takes. Why else are we still here? There will be plenty of time for rest “on the other side…won’t there?
Don’t box the air, suggested the apostle Paul…make every blow count. That applies as much to the way I live as to the way the church of God (including The Salvation Army) operates. Let’s not spin our wheels on non-fruit-bearing (for the Kingdom) activities…let us work smart as well as hard…life is too short to do otherwise.