When I turned 67 recently, I saw an article in the New York Times which read, “Better to die at 80 than survive to 100 without some martinis.” I’m not a martini drinker but I can read in “pork chops” for martini and it would be a good statement.
The article cited a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association which said, “serious calorie restriction might best serve the quest for a long, disease-free life.” In short, watch your calorie intake and live long. I can accept that. But can you accept this: the daily calorie intake of the participants in the study is 890? It seemed to suggest that 890 calories be the daily intake if one hopes to live long. Say it this way: take no more than 890 calories daily and live long (or at least improve your chances of a longer life).
But who can take 890 calories a day and live? I mean, really live, not grumpily.
I dug up my old files and I found what I was looking for. It was a chart for figuring out our daily calorie need. It suggested that to get a general idea of the number of calories we use daily, take the desirable weight for a man of your height and multiply it by 18. At five feet seven inches, I should weigh 147 according to the chart. That’s thin but I’ll grant that, for the meantime. Multiplied by 18, my daily calorie intake may reach up to 2,646. I used to complain about this but compared to 890, this old chart suddenly took on some measure of credibility (or acceptability) to me.
Why complain about 890? Well, if I accept that measure, I can only take an 8-ounce hamburger in two slices of white bread and one raw tomato in one day. Sure, I can live on that but I will grow very thin in two weeks and our community will worry that I may have caught a serious disease like cancer or tuberculosis or something.
Nowadays, people’s preoccupation seems to be longevity. “How much longer can I live?” This has become a subject of much concern for many. For me, I prefer to indulge in the question: how well can I live my last years? I just turned 67 and if the Book of Psalms proves true for me, I can expect 3 more years or 13. Psalm 90: 10 says, “Seventy is the sum of our years, eighty if we are strong.”
Will I live the rest of my life following the 890-calorie principle? If I do, shall I say goodbye to Agnes’ excellent cream cheese in olive oil and roasted garlic. Or the Baguio longganisa, fried eggs and fried rice for breakfast? What then will my breakfasts be like?
Shall I shift to low-fat yogurt for breakfast? Oh, no! Yes, it is healthful, I know. But I may have only 1,005 breakfasts to go after my last birthday. Shall it be 1,005 healthful low-fat yogurt breakfasts? That is, if I live up to 70. Add 3,650 yogurt breakfasts to my 1,005 (if I live up to 80) and that makes a total of 4,655. That figure is a little less now at the time of this writing. But, praise the Lord, no one is forcing yogurt on me.
Really now, I am more inclined to make the most of my remaining 1,005 breakfasts. How about Baguio longganisa on some days, Nueva Ecija longganisa on other days, Lucena longganisa whenever they are available? Or shall I invite my friends to taste my homemade sun-dried beef tapa on some weekend breakfasts? I made them myself. I couldn’t wait to be invited to my friend’s house for a meal. She makes excellent tapa. So I experimented on making them myself. They turned out so good. They taste even better when dipped in sukang Iloko.
Will the enjoyment of such breakfasts shorten my life? Or will the sadness of taking low-fat yogurt do it for me? The mere thought of having to spend these 1,005 breakfasts on low-fat yogurt removes all the cheerfulness from my heart. Proverbs 17:22 says: “A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.” I think that when your bones dry up, you get all sorts of pain, arthritic and all, and the joy of living goes out. On the other hand, I usually have a cheerful disposition after a longganisa and fried eggs breakfast. On those days, I think I give good pastoral advice, I am more understanding and more patient. Or am I just imagining it?
So you see, longevity is not my main issue. 67 years of joy and sadness has been good for my soul. I have fought the good fight. I have served when there was no one around to serve. I stepped aside when younger men stepped forward. I have done my praying and my fasting. And I still do. Now, I shall count my remaining breakfasts and enjoy them. Not irresponsibly, mind you. I do listen to my doctor. But I will just enjoy good food while there are still some. I will enjoy them while I still can. I know that God enjoys seeing me eat with gusto. A time will come when my digestive system will fail me or my teeth will go. In that time, not even my doctor and my dentist can help me. Only God can.
Responsible eating is what I am advocating. Eat enough. Choose the food you like but eat only those your doctor allows for your good health. Don’t starve yourself in a quest for a longer life. What’s the point in having 3 to 13 more years if, everyday, you are so afraid to eat the food that gives you enjoyment? That is, take as much as your health situation allows. Okay, the diabetics ought to watch their sugar intake. They should control themselves when they see Agnes’ irresistible rum cake. The hypertensive persons must watch their cholesterol level. They shouldn’t take too much of my sun-dried beef tapa. Others have their own special health conditions to care about. To each his own, as they say.
Take responsibility for your health. I do. For physical exercise, I walk briskly everyday at the U.P. grounds with Agnes. It’s fun. Okay, I admit, I started this routine only a month ago. But you should see my cardiologist, he is very happy about this new thing in my life. And he also noticed a drop in my weight too. That gave me confidence in the weighing scale in his clinic which I suggested that he replace with a more accurate one during my previous visits. For now, the weighing scale can stay.
The benefit of daily brisk walking with my wife is not confined to physical health. Agnes and I also have encouraging dialogue which builds up our souls. No, it’s not always about prayer and community and our children. There are some spontaneous dialogues which are unmatched in value. For example, one day while walking at U.P., we noticed a fat woman. Agnes said, “hindi naman ako ganoon kataba, ano?” I shot back very quickly, “to even think about that is really ridiculous.” My wife is not fat, she’s pleasingly plump. And I will fight anybody who disagrees with me.
On another day, as I drove the short distance to U.P., I took my son’s sunglasses from the dashboard and put them on. “Baka maging pogi ako kung suot ko ito,” I said lightheartedly. Agnes quickly retorted, “Vic, hindi mo na kailangan yan para pumogi.” So you see, the walking exercise has its physical benefits but the dialogue that takes place during the walk has far greater value. But don’t think it’s just mutual ego-massaging. No, we are quite in touch with reality. I know I am not pogi, I look like Sean Connery. I have not heard my wife disagree with that. But my sons do. They think I look like Morgan Freeman. But I tolerate them, I don’t mind them, they have poor judgment anyway. Sometimes, I ask myself where they got the poor judgment syndrome. Was it in their 12 years at La Salle or in their 4 years of Ateneo college education?
Do I have other passions than food? Excuse me, food is not my passion at all. Talking about food is. It is one favorite topic of conversation during the lull in our Familia Excom meetings. Oh yes, we don’t deny it, we love good food too. As a Batangueno, I take pride in my caldereta. And in my recent visit to Milan, Italy, I learned something new from our Familia brethren there: how to prepare spaghetti with ripe tomatoes marinated in olive oil and balsamic vinegar and spiced with basil. Very Italian. Molto bene!
More seriously now, how shall I live my life if I have only 3 more years to live? To imitate a saint I once read, “I shall continue doing what I am doing now.” I shall continue praying and reading Scripture daily. I shall continue serving the Lord in and out of community, for as long as my health will allow. I shall repent daily of my shortcomings. But unlike the saint, I recognize that I must make greater efforts to grow daily in love and forgiveness. And I shall seek the protection of my guardian angels so that I may overcome temptation and sin. All these I will continue doing so that I may enjoy my remaining days and my journey into eternal life.
Oops, I almost forgot to add: if the Lord allows, I will continue to enjoy my longganisa breakfasts, and my caldereta and spaghetti dinners. Add to that, sinaing na tulingan and bulanglang lunches from Batangas in responsible portions, of course. I promise the Lord that I will stick to my physical exercise, take my daily maintenance medicine for hypertension and see my cardiologist regularly. You see, the Lord who is the giver of life wants us to enjoy what He has given us. Yes, all He has given, including the sufferings which I prefer not to talk about for now. I have had my fair share of them.
Now, who wants to share them with me?