This past Saturday, my husband and I enjoyed lunch at a café we’ve only ever visited for dessert. I knew they had a menu of something other than ice cream and I’ve heard good things about the sandwiches. In the mood for something new—and when it comes to food, “something new” is fully half of my mood—I suggested we give it a try.
After finishing the first half of my sandwich—a baguette with turkey, bacon, avocado, mayonnaise and alfalfa sprouts—I sat back, patted my stomach and said, “If I died right this minute, this would be a perfect last meal.”
I’d just eaten bacon and I’d ordered a real Coke. Not the diet stuff; the one with sugar in it.
If asked to choose a final meal, I’m honestly not sure what I would pick, but it would probably be something fried. Something deep fried. Chicken, maybe. With potato salad and biscuits and coleslaw and apple pie and soda with sugar in it. Or maybe sweet tea. Or a slab of rare prime rib with a heaping pile of mashed potatoes, gravy and peas. Pizza would be amazing, especially if it was extra cheesy and piled high with pepperoni and jalapeno peppers. You’d have to promise to execute me soon afterward, though. Pizza no longer agrees with me.
Nor do pork, onions, garlic, cheese in ANY form, hot peppers, excessive amounts of wine and/or beer, flavored potato chips or corn chips or any chips (God, I miss Doritos), most dips, ice cream, cream, pasta sauce… lasagna…
The list is long and not the point of this post, except to note I am closer to expiring from my food choices than I was a few years ago. I’m going to say it’s my body’s way of putting on the brakes and making sure I enjoy another fifty years, or as close to it as I can get. I will still eat all of these things. Just not very much, not very often, and with many days in between, because, damn it, life is meant to be worth living.
No, it’s not all about the food. (It’s all about the food.) But I enjoy food. I like trying new things. I enjoy cooking and love trying out new recipes. Our Valentine’s tradition is to plan a menu and cook together. It’s not always a great success, but it’s a good excuse to pull out all the kitchen tools Alton Brown convinced us to buy.
I’d really hate to die after having eaten cottage cheese on a whole wheat cracker, followed by a glass of water. I mean, I’d be dead, so I guess I wouldn’t really have an opinion one way or another, but as a last meal, it’d suck.
Thing is, I am quite conscious of my health, so I do actually eat horrible things from time to time in an effort to stave off untimely death episodes. I’d like not to die of complications from my diet (the fact I like fried things), or because of weight issues, blood sugar issues, heart issues—anything that can be contributed to not eating well.
But I’m also human and while I can ignore a box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts for about half an hour or so, eventually I’m going to cave. Then I might eat one. If I exercised that day, or if I’ve been drinking, I’ll eat more than one.
I want to die on a day when I’ve eaten a Krispy Kreme doughnut.
I turn fifty this year and I’m actually pretty calm about it. I’ve had forty-nine years to get used to the idea, and fifty isn’t as old as it used to be. In fact, I’m not convinced it was ever really old. For a good long while it hasn’t been, anyway. I’ve enjoyed my forties. I’ve loved them, in fact. I know who I am now and I like me. It’s a great way to be. But I also gained ten pounds in my forties and whereas a handful of years ago I could have gone, “Oh my God, I gained ten pounds,” and LITERALLY stressed the weight off—my capacity for stress is amazing—I can’t do that anymore. I… have to exercise. And walking the neighborhood while listening to an audiobook, then coming home for a beer or hot chocolate, isn’t cutting it. I have to do cardio type stuff.
I’m pretty active. I stack boxes at the library once a week. I keep a two-story house clean. I have a garden that is far, far too big. I walk. I do yoga. I shovel mulch. But I don’t do anything very fast. So when I started adding cardio to my routines, I discovered just how unfit I really was, and it was quite depressing. About as depressing as not being able to move this ten pounds by simply quitting beer o’clock.
But I did it because I didn’t want to turn fifty and be unfit. Life is only going to get harder. So I lost the ten pounds. Then Christmas happened and I was reunited with bacon and Coca-Cola.
Having walked this circle for about three years now, I’m about ready to split the difference. It’s not a disaster. I still fit into the same jeans, just not quite the same way I used to. And they’re a relaxed fit. (Look, it’s a viable cheat.) I will acknowledge I feel a whole lot better (mentally and intestinally) when I eat salads for lunch and so that’s become the norm for me. But when I feel like making myself a Reuben, I’m going to make the damn Reuben, and I’m over diet soda. I don’t drink much of it anyway, so why not enjoy real Coke? I love the taste of Coca-Cola. I always have. I’ve never had much of an issue with soda, though. Ordering diet beverages just became the norm at some point.
I fully acknowledge that ten pounds is hardly a tipping point. It’s more of a personal issue than anything that really threatens my health. What concerns me more is maintaining my quality of life as I get older, and what I eat is one of those happy places for me.
If I could choose the method of my death—and don’t even try to tell me you haven’t thought about this and maybe even made a list—I know I want it to be quick and unexpected. A big old bus would do. Or a meteorite can knock me on the head. If it’s a heart attack, it has to be super-fast. I’m terrified of aneurysms because I already suffer terrible headaches on a regular basis. But I’ve heard they’re pretty quick too.
What I don’t want is to linger. I watched too many friends die of cancer last year. I’ve watched other loved ones kill themselves with drink and drugs. I might not be living what some consider a very exciting life. Salads are rarely amazing. But if I do end up lingering, I don’t want to lie there thinking, “Man, I wish I hadn’t ordered a Diet Coke from Five Guys last week. I should have had Mello Yello. And fries. And why, for the love of all that is holy, did I not take advantage of the Entenmann’s half-price sale at Shoprite yesterday?”
Aaaand… it’s not all about food. (I know, I’m thinking the same thing.) What I’m really trying to say is:
Compromise is great and it’s often necessary. Sometimes our health really does limit our choices. And some of us eat what we do for other reasons, personal and valid. What I’m really talking about, though, are the limits we place on ourselves. Diet is a huge one, but there are so many others.
I don’t want to die on a day when I decided to clean all of the silver in the dining room because I just know the day it shows a hint of tarnish, the queen herself will actually visit me and it will be the most embarrassing experience of my entire life.
The queen is never going to visit me. Keeping clean silver is nice and if I’ve got a great audiobook, not really that arduous an exercise. Same with the lawn, the mulch, the bathrooms my family insists on using, even after I’ve taped them up and locked the doors with a faint hope my “Sanitized for your protection” tapes will stay where they are. Figuratively, of course.
I want to die on a day when I watched an extra episode of This is Us, instead of sticking to my limit of one a day. I want to die on the day I said, “F*ck this” and decided NOT to work, put on my hiking boots and hit a trail instead. I want to die *after* visiting the Great Wall. Falling from the Wall would be cool, as long as someone knocked me unconscious first.
I want to die after I’ve taken a chance and actually let someone read my post-apocalyptic Christmas love story with aliens, magic, and another extinction level event hurtling over the horizon.
I want to live life. I want to visit all the places on my list. I want to try new things. Different things. I want to lean back every day and say, “You know, if I died right now, I’d be okay with that, because this was a Good Day.”
Not every moment can be special, but every one can be savored, and that, right there, is how I’d like to die.