The thing that comes first

A friend was driving in L.A. yesterday and witnessed a terrible collision, where a woman in a jeep flipped her car, flew in the air, and landed on the side. My friend stopped and talked to her and calmed her while waiting for rescue to arrive, as the driver was trapped. The man who caused the collision was distraught beyond words; a real mess.

The woman was extricated without any broken bones, and in addition to being freaked out she was upset about having her new car totaled. My friend thought that with the violence of the impact the woman would have been killed instantly.

My friend’s take away on it? “If I know one thing for sure, your health is all that matters. The metal can be replaced but the person cannot.”

I pondered her wisdom this morning and thought about the people in life who sacrifice their health for the cheapest and most worthless things. On the way home from the race in Chula Vista yesterday I stopped in Leucadia and got a Subway sandwich; meat, some olives, some jalapenos, some radishes, some tomatoes, some purple onions, and a little bit of vinegar and black pepper on whole wheat. There is a Starbucks next door so I got a cup of black hot coffee and sat down on the outside deck to enjoy lunch before battling the heavy traffic back to L.A.

I was wrecked from 50 miles in back-to-back races and hadn’t eaten since breakfast and the apple that Dandy had given me before the start of race #2. The first bite of that sandwich was nirvana. I shivered, it tasted so good.

A family came up while I was caressing each bite with my tongue, and one by one they sat down heavily under the little umbrellas. They were terribly obese. The mom was 150 lbs. overweight and the little girl with her was horribly overweight. The smallest person in their family of five was a solid 50 pounds overweight and looked rail-thin in comparison to everyone else.

I thought about the diabetes that they either had or were going to have, of struggling to walk from the car to the curb, of forcing themselves uncomfortably into airplane seats, of the joint pain, the back pain, the neck pain, the lifetime of doctor appointments, the continual ingestion of pharmaceuticals, the body shame, always having to shop from the racks with the most gigantic clothing, and never ever getting to know the pleasure of riding a bicycle along the coast for an hour or two though they were in Leucadia, which is smack in the middle of one of the most beautiful places on earth.

And for what? Junk food at Subway? The little girl, who was about eight years old, had a 12-inch roast beef sandwich stuffed so full with “fixings” that she could barely get it into her mouth, and the end of the sub drooled sauce like a broken sewage pipe. Everyone had two bags of chips, a cookie, and a giant coke cup.

What’s worse, no one looked as if they were enjoying their meal. It’s as if the surfeit made the food utterly tasteless.

I thought about my friend, who for over twenty years after coming back from cancer has completely changed her life. She rides, she has overcome addiction, and she refuses to put her health second to anything. Most of all, she has the spiritual strength and the strength of character to stop in the middle of a catastrophe and help others. Is her respect for her own well-being part of what makes her able to help others in time of need?

I think it is.



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22 thoughts on “The thing that comes first”

  1. Hunger they say is the best gravy. Sounds like your friend went through a lot to be as wise as she is, which is unfortunately often the case, as for your dieting friends I hope they don’t have to go through as much to wise up.

      1. A pretty funked up situation, if you think about it.

        Either way I just wanted to say thank you for the blog, it’s both entertaining and thought prrovoking.

  2. Seth: Thank you for posting this. This means a lot to me. I have been in my share of tragic car accidents. My hope, once I saw she was trying to move was to convince her and the young man who caused the accident want to help her was to simply focus on “the positive” and now! This women’s GF wrote me last night and the parents. We are meeting for coffee this week. Cristin told me when we embraced, after she was finally extracted from the car, “that was all I needed”- Hugs can go a long way! Saying I love you can go a longer way! Calling a friend or even sending an email out of the blue and asking how they are doing, can go a very long way.

    I have spoken to hundreds of doctors about surviving cancer twice, and now in battle number three….The last time I was asked to talk to a group of doctors at UCLA, I asked my oncologist what to say. He told me to tell them the truth. Dr. Vandermolen, my oncologist, told me, “believe me, Cheryl, there are many doctors who need to hear what you have to say.”

    I told them, in sum and substance:

    “I believe deep down that you and your treatment, bone marrow transplants, surgeries, chemo, has had not one thing to do with my survival. (post transplant #2, they told me it did not work and I was drinking myself to death) –
    “I believe that diet, exercise, prayer, meditation, and a 12-step program saved my life.” I may not be correct, but it is just my opinion.

    I have beaten many odds, in fact, all of those little fuckers.

    And after having success in many areas of my life, like business, money, drinking men and women under the table, being on welfare, food stamps, no medical insurance with breast cancer, single mother…bla, bla — when I found myself in 1998 in the last house on the block, with nowhere to go but further down my ladder of destruction….Health, I knew then, was all I needed, and the one thing I did not have. The house, BMW, money, drugs and alcohol and fake friends waiting on the bar stool for me, I learned in that five minutes of my life, that my life was empty. Some days, I still chase the wrong in life, but it always comes back to me and my bicycle, in my case, riding for my life.

    I sat in my first meeting, with terminal cancer and told I had maybe six months to live, no hair and hung over, crying, looking around me and saw that all the money in the world would not get me sober, money could not buy my health. Money meant SHIT. Money was evil. It bought me trouble. How would getting sober help me anyway? That was April 1998.

    I went to my first spin class a few months later and eventually I found myself a real bicycle….The rest is history to most, if any, who read this long-winded post.

    (sorry, Seth, for the long post)

  3. I was an extremely thin kid, and my body image for the majority of my life was that I was a thin kid. 100 pounds later I still was deluding myself that I was thin, with maybe a couple extra that I could lose anytime. I didn’t see it, until one day I did. Perception is a funny thing, especially when a third of the population is obese and 2/3rds is overweight. The justifications for it that are bandied about as fact are amazing.

    I still straddle the normal/overweight line. It’s the balance I’ve found that allows me to be a horrible person in moderation. A lot of people say I look skinny, which makes me giggle and suppress the urge to call them all fatty-fat-fats. The people that are actually a healthy weight they call dangerously skinny.

    Perception. It’s a dangerous thing.

  4. The body is the temple that houses the mind and the soul. It’s preservation and maintenance should always be priority number one. The tragedy lies in overlooking, disregarding or dismissing this basic and vital connectivity. And kudos to your friend. I say this as I celebrate 20 years of sobriety this week. Still successfully dodging the Big C (so far).

  5. Barbara Radnofsky

    Bad habits and addictions are so hard to break, aren’t they. Does the desire to be treated with respect (a universal trait?) translate into either the ability to (1) break addictions without outside education/help; or (2) empathise (or just selfishly realize) the virtues of showing respect? Regardless of the answer your friend is tops on all levels. My answer to your rhetorical question: she’d be a kind and good person as described regardless of whether she had extraordinary self discipline.

  6. The average American is now 30% body fat, and that is considered “normal”. But just because something is considered normal does not make it right.
    And speaking of things that are not right: Stopping in Leucadia and eating Subway instead of Juanita’s. Now that’s just not right.

  7. diabetes or cirrhosis are both often a result of addiction. Neither is more righteous than the other. When the suffering no longer feeds the emptiness, each person has the choice to overcome.

  8. Your restaurant neighbors’ health is not supposed to be your business, its their poor choice we are told. We just accept that its ok to be told to put on a helmet but abusive to speak up about someone’s food choices.

    Legislate bike helmets and pot, free choice with bags of chips and bottomless corn syrup soda. Because, diabetes drugs are the #1 therapy expenditure in the US and we all share that cost to big pharma.

  9. Another blogger named Henry Rollins related his observations at a Texas all-you-can-eat smorgasbord. Something like your experience at the Subway except it was the whole place.

    1. Having lived in Texas, he was wrong. It’s the whole state. And Texas is petite compared to Louisiana and Mississippi.

  10. Seth – I know it is annoying for me to keep harping on the misuse of “accident”. Yet, just like you (and many more of us) who keep harping on the gutter bunnies because if the importance of it all, I’m gonna keep doing my bit on the word until I get some buy-in!

    Our discussion about the use of the word “accident” a few weeks back ended with your satisfying response of agreement: Words Matter.

    Yet… are you certain that your friend witnessed a terrible accident as you wrote here? Or is it possible that she witnessed a terrible automobile crash (apparently caused by one person, and just about killing another)? I know it’s hard to change the one, non-descriptive word that we’ve always used for these traffic crashes and collisions. Just like it has been hard to switch from cowering at the edge of the roadway like we all used to do. I only ask that you join me in trying to turn this corner, and making a difference. I promise that it is a lot less unnerving than riding in the middle of the road.

    I keep wondering that if I had (hypothetically) a close friend who – along with several of her riding buddies – was run down by a drunk, unlicensed, uninsured teenage driver with his drunk, felon father in the passenger seat… how would I describe this situation to others? Would I start with, “it was a terrible accident?” No. I certainly would not. Because this was not an accident. And the implication that every traffic incident (whether tragic or benign) that happens on the road is merely “unintended,” and thus not much to worry about, is becoming ever more difficult for me to accept.

    Words matter.

    Yours in annoyance,

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