Last weekend, I was laid out by what I presume to be the Flu. I came home Friday and curled into a blanket burrito and went to sleep until Sunday afternoon. I have never been so sick. While phasing in and out of delirium I had some time to reflect. Here’s what I came up with:
1. We are weaker than we realize. Human frailty is real. When everything works, we don’t think about it. But as soon as it doesn’t, you realize how important health is. I tend to bulldoze my way through my daily life and forget how much I rely on my body. It’s hard to do anything when you can’t even sit up. Will is nothing without the Body.
2. The body and its adaptive life systems are strong. The entire time I was sick I marveled at my body’s response to fight the illness: fevers to raise the core temperature and drive out invaders, diminished appetite (why take in when your tissues are busy purging), and increased excretion from every quarter to clean house. I knew that if I could stay hydrated my immune system would rally and do its job while I slept and stayed out of the way. We still know so little about how our own bodies function.
3. Sleep is repair time. Normally most of us can get by with 6 hours of sleep or less a night. But, we should be sleeping better. It is not time wasted. While we admire the mechanistic efficiency of our computers, we should not attempt to emulate this mechanistic way of life by depriving ourselves of sleep and rest. When we sleep our bodies go through various repair and optimization routines for managing hormones, neurotransmitters, memory, digestion, tissue repair, etc. Good sleep is optimal rather than wasteful.
4. Death can be a relief.
“A death that ends the incurable ills of life is a blessing.” – Publius Syrus.
When you get really sick you can understand how death might be a relief if there were no end to the illness. Knowing that you are going to get better makes it easier to deal with. Sickness is so totally at odds with life that it is difficult to live with it.
5. Sickness tells you what to eat. Whenever I woke up and tried to eat or drink something, I only wanted a few simple things: watered down orange juice, ice water, and as I got better, simple foods like hearty cereal, fruit, or eggs. No fatty foods, no spicy foods, no large portions of anything. That sounds like a good way to do it all the time.
6. We are functions, not beings. The human body is a collection of processes rather than a thing. Human life is best perceived in time and movement. The idea of living itself contains this concept of movement. To live is to move. If you look at human behavior from a completely alien point of view, we are self-replicating, environmental processors. We consume other organisms rather than raw materials. We break down what we consume and use it to propel ourselves forward through time and against the natural entropy of the universe. Life as an organizing principle of the Universe?