Open letter to health insurance companies:

My health insurance company asked me how they could do better. I answered like this –

It would be nice if it cost less. I don’t think I get $400 a month of use out of my health insurance. Make it so everybody can afford it. That way, they wouldn’t have to work so hard and stress so much about their bills – thus staying healthy. If people could afford health insurance on part-time work, they’d have time to exercise, visit with friends, and do the things that matter to them. We all know how important these things are to staying healthy. Or, if the rates need to stay the same, I’d love it if we as a society could turn “health care” into actually caring for health, instead of just managing disease. Too many folks don’t have time to take care of their health, so they get sick. “Health care” becomes “disease management” and palliative care, rather than truly helping people achieve health. It would be great if your health insurance company would pay for visits to nutritionists, personal trainers, massage therapists, and acupuncturists, for example. We live in changing times. It is time for new ways of thinking.

Fear and ignorance could have killed me.

I can’t let other people’s fear keep me from taking care of my health.

I didn’t get a mammogram for years because everybody told me how painful it was. Friends and comedians would joke that getting a mammogram was like slamming your breast in the freezer door, or putting it in a vise. Who would want to do that?

I didn’t go to a gynecologist because my mother never impressed on me that I should. She never went as far as I knew, once she had stopped having children. She thought that sex was dirty. Sex was something you did once a week as a duty to your husband. So she certainly didn’t teach me how to keep my female parts healthy.

Also, friends talked about how uncomfortable it was to go to the gynecologist. Awkward, unpleasant, strange – they really weren’t selling it as something I should do. They always talked about going for a checkup as a chore, kind of like how my Mom talked about sex. One even said she’d rather have a root canal than go to the gynecologist. Either she has a great dentist or a terrible gynecologist.

Then three years ago I read “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” and I realized that a woman in her 30s could die of cervical cancer. For some reason I thought that was an older woman’s disease. So I went for my first checkup in 20 years. I found that I had moderate to severe cervical dysphasia. Not cancer, but cancer’s next door neighbor. I had surgery to get it removed. If I had waited, I’d be dead by now from something totally preventable.

Fear and ignorance could have killed me.

Now I’m going to a chiropractor. My friends are now saying what they’ve always said about chiropractors. They are quacks. They insist you come a lot and they don’t promise anything. They heard of somebody who got paralyzed by one. But if I’d gone to a regular doctor for my slipped disc a week ago I would have been given pain pills and muscle relaxers. I still would have had a slipped disc. I just wouldn’t have cared.

I’m sure there are true stories of chiropractors who have accidentally harmed patients. But how many regular doctors have perfect records? There is a reason medical malpractice insurance is expensive. Nobody is perfect.

My chiropractor has a good point. We get our teeth checked twice a year, and if one of them goes bad we can get a replacement. We can’t replace our spine, yet we never check it.

Sure, I’m not happy about having to go several times a week, but it isn’t forever. It is just for a few months, then it won’t be that often. Plus, it feels amazing.

I like to think of my back as like a bonsai tree. Change can’t happen overnight. When I had braces it took 4 years to get my teeth straight. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and my back won’t be healed overnight.

Meanwhile I’m going to try to unlearn a whole lot of nonsense that I was taught, and try not to spread any more of it around.

“Hated”

We recently went to get gas at a local store. A carload of young black males pulled up in front of us at a diagonal. They were there to get snacks at the shop and to get gas. But how the driver parked was weird. He parked in such a way that there is no way we could pull forward to leave, and there is no way another car could have pulled through. How they parked was selfish and thoughtless and inconsiderate.

Then their music was insanely loud. I was in the car with the windows closed. Their windows were also closed, yet their music was still so loud I could clearly hear it. They did not care whether other people wanted quiet or not. Through their actions they showed that they didn’t care about other people at all. One of the passengers pulled out a roll of cash and started fanning it. There had to be at least five hundred dollars in his hands.

Then I noticed the driver’s shirt. It was black and had huge letters in a white typeface. The letters took up a fourth of the front of the shirt. They spelled out “HATED”

What a way to self-identify. My thought was if you feel like you are hated, then stop acting in a way that makes people hate you. Act in a civilized manner. Start acting as if you aren’t the only person around.

Then I remember how I’ve seen a lot of black mothers talk to their children. Not all, certainly. But I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. Maybe one in ten use calm, friendly tones with their children. If they talk to their children at all it is sharply. It is hostile. It is frustrated. They bark at their children. “Stop doing that”. “Get over here.” The tone from these mothers says “you are a waste of my time. You are an inconvenience. I didn’t want you. ”

No wonder their children grow up feeling hated. No wonder they grow up angry. Maybe their mothers spoke the same way to them. I’m just reporting what I’m seeing. I’m not saying it should be like this. I’m saying it shouldn’t. I’m saying it is time to change things.

How much of this comes from the mothers reading “urban erotic fiction” with such winning titles as “Thong On Fire” and “Pit Bull in a Skirt”? No, I’m not making these titles up. Sadly, the most popular reading genre in my library for black women is “urban erotic fiction” – where the men are gangsters and the women are whores. It is junk food for the soul. Actually, it is worse than junk food. It teaches women that they are nothing. They are meat. They are things. They are something to be used and thrown away. Women read this and they learn this script. They learn that they are less than nothing. They learn that they have no purpose in life other than to get laid by a man, who is going to leave them.

Why would anybody want to put this message into themselves? This is poison.

While I support the right of everybody to read what they want, I also reserve the right to think that what they are doing is harmful to themselves, and by extension, society. I think the same of the general American culture as well. People can refuse to exercise and eat well. They have that right. But I still have the right to point out that not only will they suffer for their bad choices, but we all suffer from having sick people. We cannot possibly move forward if we are all stuck to the couch. And it doesn’t matter if we are on the couch eating junk food, or reading junk books.

Peace (cat in a tree)

I want to be a peacemaker. I want to take conflict resolution classes. I want to help people understand each other. I want to wake people up to their potential. I want to show them how to prevent problems.

My spiritual director says I need to focus inward. She says I need to take care of myself first. I guess this I kind of like when you are on an airplane and the pressure drops. You have to make sure your oxygen mask is on first before you help out the people around you. I guess it is like being a first responder. If you aren’t in shape, how can you rescue someone else?

This makes sense yet it also sounds backwards. There are already too many people who are totally self centered and selfish. There are already too many people who are unaware and unawake. To turn my desire to help others around onto myself seems like regression.

But perhaps the middle way is best. It would mean that I am balanced and grounded. It would mean that I can help others and not be depleted. If you overextend you may fall. Just like if you are rescuing a kitten from a tree, if you reach out too far, go past your balance point, you’ll fall to the ground.

Then, there is the idea that the kitten needs to learn how to get her own dang self down.

If you keep rescuing the kitten, she’ll keep needing to be rescued. Maybe there is something useful there in that thought.

Nobody rescued me. Nobody stood around and cheered me on to start getting healthy in body and soul. Nobody figured out how I could carve out time and money to go to the Y. Perhaps there is something in letting people figure out how to get there on their own.

Maybe there is something to being OK with the idea that they may never get there. Maybe there is something about being OK with where they are right now.

I just hate listening to the yowling of that stuck cat.

I want it to stop climbing up that tree. It has climbed up that same tree for years and it keeps getting stuck. I want it to pick a different tree or figure this one out. Or stay away from trees entirely.

I’ve got my own trees to wrestle with. I want to help, but I don’t want to rescue. But I also don’t want to feel like saying “I told you so”.

Parasites

Such a negative word. Parasite. You think of vermin and viruses. You think of slimy, gross things eating away.

This is such a human-centered way of thinking. If it doesn’t benefit us, it is bad. I’ve written along with others that our need to define things as good or bad is part of our undoing. We have this need to control in our need to define.

What is against us has to be bad. Of course.

But mosquitoes are what birds eat. Their song, their strength in flight, is fed by these insects that cause us torment.

Who knows about tapeworms and viruses? Who knows what purpose they play? Do we have to know?

When we take antibiotics, anti-life by definition, we are killing these very viruses. They are growing and thriving in an environment that is hospitable for them. Perhaps kinder would be to just prevent the environment in the first place.

Is it the fault of moss that it grows in a wet place? No. So if you don’t want moss, fix what is causing the moisture.

What about cancer? Cancer is mindless, but it grows and divides. Is it alive?

Part of the mission of Star Trek was to seek out new life.

They flew around the universe encountering countless beings that looked like people and countless more entities that looked nothing like life. Week after week we learned along with them to see value in these beings, these entities. We learned to see them as having a purpose, as having sentience.

The most important thing we can learn is that just because their purpose and sentience isn’t the same as ours doesn’t make it wrong.

We’ve heard that just because someone else is on a different path doesn’t mean they are lost.

So, does this mean that we allow the tapeworm to move in? Does this mean we show compassion to cancer and we don’t cut it out?

These are hard questions, and I’m not sure I have the answers.

I think there is something in there about boundaries.

I’ve heard one definition of jealousy is thinking that someone has something that is yours.

Surely your body is yours.

But if it is, consider this. A rabbi once said that “Is that your nose? Where is your receipt?”

We don’t create ourselves. We have some influence on our bodies by what we eat and if we exercise. We can somewhat shape ourselves. But for the most part our bodies are gifts to us. Unmerited.

Our bodies are temples. Our bodies house our souls. Even our souls are gifts. Consciousness is a gift of the Creator.

Who are we to refuse entrance to other members of creation?

Now, if we keep our bodies in bad shape we will invite more things than we might know how to deal with.

It is like having a small house and hosting a huge party. We might have a lot more party-goers than we know what to do with. We might run out of party food and they will start eating our staples. We might have to call the police.

But what happens when the party goers are cancer? Is the doctor the police? Doubtful, considering the nature of Western medicine. It treats the symptom rather than the cause. But that is the focus of another post, another day.

I don’t have the answers. I’m OK with asking the questions and living into the answers. Sometimes just asking the questions is a good start.

The biggest thing I want to get across is that just because something isn’t for us, isn’t part of our plan, doesn’t seem to have a purpose that benefits us – doesn’t mean it is bad. It just is. It is part of creation. Perhaps we don’t have eyes to see the purpose. Perhaps it doesn’t have a purpose, and perhaps we need to be OK with that.

We tend to want answers, and closure. Perhaps it is healthier just to observe without judgment.

Car. (prevention is cheaper than cure)

Prevention is cheaper than cure.

We all know what is necessary to get healthy. Yet so few of us do it. What is the impetus that causes some people to take matters in their own hands and be active about their health?

Fear of disease motivates some, but for some that causes a return to old ways. They are worried about their health, but the only tool they have for dealing with worry is bad for them. So they eat the wrong things or smoke or drink. The reason for their ill health is from too much of bad things, and too little of good things. The things that they use for comfort are the very things that are causing the problem that they need comfort about. It is a horrible cycle.

Then some people have spent so much time being miserable that they are afraid of change. They would rather continue to be miserable than try something new.

Change is scary.

If you are walking on a road with no cars on it, you don’t realize that you need to move over to the side of the road. You’ve never seen a car. You might have heard stories about cars, and about how dangerous they are, but you’ve never seen one yourself, so you don’t know for sure.

They won’t run you down, certainly.

So then you walk along a little further. You see a person on the side of the road. She’s been hit pretty badly before, but she’s limping along. She’s got a cane, and she’s still walking.

She tells you about the car that hit her. She got away with just a broken leg.

You may think, boy, she is unlucky, but that won’t happen to me.

Then you walk a little further, and you see someone who is in a wheelchair. He tells you about the car that hit him. Maybe you start to think there might be something to this car thing that you should take seriously – but you still haven’t seen one yet.

Then you walk a little further, and you start to see someone on the side of the road. He’s dead. And you look ahead, and you see more and more people who are hobbling, and in wheelchairs, or dead.

Way up ahead you see people who are OK. They are not only walking, but they are running. They are enjoying this road. They are on the side, out of the path of the cars. They decided to take the warnings seriously.

You can’t get off this road. But you can stay out of the way of the cars.

The cars are cancer. Diabetes. Heart disease. They are coming. They are big, and they hit hard.

Our society suffers from way too many preventable diseases. We are number one, alright, in obesity. We eat too much, and too much of the wrong thing. We gorge ourselves on doughnuts out of our desperation. We drown our sorrows with our friend Jack.

We were sold the image of the Marlboro Man, all tough and rugged. He didn’t look so tough in the cancer ward, hooked up to oxygen and chemo drugs. He died, telling people that they needed to know how dangerous cigarettes are.

A car is coming. Get out of the way.

You know what is necessary. We know all the don’ts.

Don’t smoke, don’t eat too much meat (if at all), don’t eat fried foods. Drop caffeine and processed sugar. Avoid alcohol and drugs.

But what do you do? Those are things we use to comfort ourselves. We self-medicate with food.

Learn anger management. Breathe deeply and consciously. Take yoga. Go for a walk. Take up a hobby. Journal. Practice compassion and forgiveness – towards yourself and others. Eat vegetables. Have a rainbow on your plate. Get enough sleep. Make time to spend with friends.

This stuff that is stuck in your head has to get out somehow. There are safe ways to get it out.

Perspective is important.

There is a story about a person walking towards a town. He sees another man walking away from the town and asks him about it. He says it is terrible. The people are mean, the houses are small, and the food is bland. He walks on a little further. He sees another man walking away from the town and asks him the same question. The man says that the people are nice and the food is amazing. It is the same town.

This can be a wonderful journey or a terrible one. The choice is yours.

The car is coming. Choose wisely. You aren’t special, and you aren’t lucky. It will hit you if you aren’t mindful. Be mindful. Don’t wake up 10 years from now and wonder how you got so sick and out of shape. Take the time now.

It isn’t easy. It is OK to take baby steps first. Ease towards the side. Start walking a little. Start eating better. Nobody changes overnight. But head that way.

Car.

Get out of the way.

Meatless? Are you mad?

I was at a local burrito place today and ordered “seitan chorizo con papas” as my protein option. The preparer checked with me to make sure I knew it was vegetarian. I told him that was why I ordered it. He then shared with me that a lot of people freak out when they learn this. They reject it and go with the barbacoa.

I’ve noticed a lot of people are like this. They are terrified of being without meat. I’m like this. I’m trying to eat less meat but I haven’t taken the plunge yet and gone totally vegetarian.

It is as if there is a fear of being without meat, like we will faint or fade away from lack of nutrition.

Looking at the obesity rates of Americans, there is no worry about fading away to nothing anytime soon.

I had a coworker that I invited to an Indian buffet. He asked what was available and I started to describe what we were likely to find. He was quite interested in the chicken tikka masala but bored by the spinach and potato dishes. He was a little dismayed by the absence of any beef dish. When I told him that the best dishes were the vegetarian ones he visibly got defensive.

What? Not eat meat? Are you kidding?

I pointed out that there are people who go without meat for their entire lives and they do just fine. One meal without meat wouldn’t kill him. He was so skeptical that he decided not to go.

I remember a conversation with the manager at an Indian buffet many years ago. He said that people in India and in America are both dying because of food. Indians are dying from not enough food, while Americans are dying from too much food. We are eating ourselves into our graves. We suffer from preventable diseases for many years beforehand.

Our doctors, insurers, and pharmacists make a lot of money on treating these diseases with palliative treatments. I don’t have all the words yet to explain how angry and upset I am about Western medical thought, about how it treats symptoms rather than addressing the cause of illness.

I know I feel better when I eat a vegetation diet. I feel lighter and happier. I know I am doing something nice for my body.

Our bodies are temples. Our bodies are temporal houses for our immortal souls. So why do we fill them up with trash? Why do we pollute them with preservatives?

I haven’t made the full switch because I like the taste of meat. I like the texture. I don’t want to limit myself to only two or three options on the menu when I eat out. I don’t want to be a bother to friends when they are kind enough to invite me over to their homes for dinner.

I remember when I was in college and had gone entirely vegetarian because my boyfriend was. It was as if I needed a buddy or a partner, like in a hike in the wilderness or in AA. I needed someone to participate in this different diet with me. Plus, he cooked.

I was invited to a cousin’s wedding and the invitation said that if you had special dietary needs to call. I called and told her that I was vegetarian. She said that wasn’t a problem. A day later I got a call from my aunt, her mother, saying how dare I insist that they change everything around just for me. I was immediately uninvited to the wedding.

It was years later before I realized that side of the family was crazy in an abusive kind of way.

There is a knee-jerk reaction against being vegetarian. It is seen as counter cultural. It is seen as rebellious. It is seen as other, as weird.

But the norm is to eat all you want, spend all you want, and die soon and poor.

I don’t want to be normal. I want to live a happy, healthy life. But I also want the convenience of eating out. It is a sign of our culture that it is almost impossible to get vegetables if you eat from fast-food places. And when you do find vegetables they are either very salty, or cooked with pork, or they are just salad greens with little nutrition.

Perhaps it is time to Occupy the Kitchen.

There is nothing more countercultural than cooking your own food. There is nothing more rebellious than taking charge of your health.