He was 47 years old. He was gentlemanly; beautifully spoken;
jovial; overweight in a jolly way. I really couldnít imagine him slumped in
his living room just two days later. I couldnít imagine the grieving wife
and shocked girl child next to her.
I was thinking of the steady stream of jokes he was telling
to cut the tedium of a long graduation ceremony in central Trinidad of
11-year-olds who were still waiting for their results. He was the head of
the PTA, but kept slipping into daddy mode, gesticulating above the noise,
that there was his 11-year-old daughter, there she was. Three days later,
his wife called. He was dead. As I spoke to his grieving widow, heard the
mixture of steely stoicism and despair in her voice, I remembered a
statistic: about two-thirds of adults in the United States are overweight,
and almost one-third are obese.
Obesity carries with it a near-death sentence, putting men
and women at increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, (we have
among the highest incidence of diabetes in the worldóall that sugar, in
everything from juice to chicken) breathing difficulties during sleep,
certain types of cancer and osteoarthritis. Statistics are easier to deal
with than young fathers who when, their children need them the most, when
their wives are still young women, collapse and die. I think of a newspaper
itemóa schoolgirl found her father dead in the car. In this day, a simple
blood test can check cholesterol, sugar, liver damage, cancer. Ninety per
cent of ill-health is preventable, brought upon ourselves with our
lifestyle. Self-neglect is the quietest suicide you can imagine. It happens
The Brits call it Sodís Law. Itís called kicking you when
you are down. Just as you are the busiest in your lifeómortgage, career,
childrenójust when your responsibilities burgeon to care for older members
of the family, just when you have the least time and disposable funds to
take care of yourself, when exercise and olive oil and trips to the
vegetable stand are a luxury, thatís when your body rebels. Blood tests
reveal high cholesterol, bones ache and break, sugar spikes. Men tend to
retain the laughter of their youth, with alcohol and boys nights out, with
less self-awareness. Women tend to beat up on themselves, feel they have
been cheated out of the Cinderella story, and punctuate their juggling
responsibilities and growing hurt with binge sessions of sleeping and
More and more, as you enter your mid-thirties, you need
sugar and starch just to get you through the day. At that precise point,
when your burden is the heaviest, nature conspires with Sodís Law to conjoin
with the wires that burden you further. It explains why people age so
quickly between 35 and 45. Overnight, pot bellies appear in men; the grey
roots remains untouched in women; eyes become somewhat dull; dresses and
suits are let out, and a kind of insatiable hunger that temporarily drowns
out the vanished years.
Piles of rice, slabs of chocolate, racks of meat, fried
chicken and cake allow the brain a quick rush of pleasure, the sort that
flooded us the second we woke up when we were very young and the world was
ours to explore. Now, food allows us to simply navigate through the land
mines of domestic and working lives, chores, projects, housekeeping, car
maintenance, traffic jams, lunch kits, doctorís visits, financial concerns.
The most insidious part of growing older is becoming jaded. Itís not easier
to look at our ageing selves in the mirror.
In our heads, sometimes we are 18 but the mirror shows us
strangers. The older we get, the more invisible we get to young people,
unless we have the power to give or withhold money or jobs. So we
self-destruct: we eat more, and stop looking in the mirror. But the real
battle is with our minds. The people in their thirties and forties today run
this country, make it work, have children, take care of the elderly. We have
to remember that a childís eyes can look very old if he or she has seen too
much, and the very old, if they are fulfilled and bubbling with an endless
stream of projects, never-ending goals, if they are contributing to the
world and live active sociable lives, have the gleam of a 17-year-old.
We must fight Sodís Law, and rage against the dying of the
light. We canít wait for the Government to care about our health,
preventative or curative.
We donít have control over the traffic laws, the service industry, crime and
lawlessness. But we have control over our own bodies.
We can decide to be around longer to enjoy our children, our
bodies, our world and our lives. No matter how busy our day, we reignite our
light by exercising for an hour a day, at home with a video, around the
savannah with just a pair of running shoes. We can choose fruit. We can turn
away from ice-cream, pizza, chunks of meat. We can fill ourselves with fish
and vegetables, avocadoes and yoghurt. As our bodies get fitter, we can
carve out a few hours to read, paint, photograph, splash in a waterfall,
sign up for a 5k run.
Movement is the
best anecdote to gloom and the threat of atrophy, of a future that looks
smaller as we age. Many of us are giving in, dying with the fading light,
slowly poisoning ourselves with quick fixes, food that clogs up our hearts,
drink that ruins our liver leaving behind children who have to grow up too
soon. We donít have to slow down. We all have to speed up, to remember a
time when endless possibility spread through us like a delicious warmth, and
grope our way back to the light.