Rarely a week goes by without a feature on radio, television or press of a sterling person succumbing after a “brave battle with name-your-disease”. I am always nauseated by these war metaphors for illness and their like that place humans in opposition to natural phenomenon, nonhuman species, and “others” be they other races, nationalities, faiths, political positions, or issue du jour. Today we are fighting heart disease, global warming, invasive insects, and religious fundamentalists. But, the metaphor does us no good. It leads us only to ineffectual or downright counter productive action. I believe we should try to live with the world not war against it. I believe that the biblical injunction to multiply and subdue the earth is fundamentally self-destructive.
As a youth, aged sixteen, I began to canoe alone in a Canadian park. A solitary week or two several times each summer; rarely encountering another person; armed only with a fishing pole. I quickly learned the futility of macho. If I was to cover all those trails and lakes without exhaustion I had to set a rational sustainable pace. If I was to eat regularly I had to learn to fish when and where the fish chose. If I was to avoid injury I had to move with care and patience which often meant tedious days sitting out high winds even though I had long since finished the book brought along for these natural delays. Bulling about and fighting nature was always a losing proposition as I learned vividly on a few awful canoe trips taken with testosterone laden buddies.
In 1976 I had my first coronary artery bypass operation. In 2001 my third. I have never considered my heart disease an opponent or enemy even though it has often weakened me for months on end. It is merely the hand I am dealt and I play it as wisely and carefully as I am able. This is not surrender to an enemy. This is not rolling over and dying. This is along with superb medical care, why I believe, I am still alive 33 years after I was given seven years to live. I regularly seek medical advice and take it. I follow all the rules of medication, exercise and lifestyle faithfully but without fanaticism. I have outlived all the odds, but it was not by chance. It was by deciding to live with my illness rather than fight it. I worked many years designing tools for blind and other disabled persons and observed that the most successful and happiest were those who focused on their abilities and “lived with” their disabilities. This observation and the lessons of my lonely canoe trips have served me well.
I believe that whenever we try to motivate with war metaphors such as “the war on cancer” and the “fight against global warming”, we sentence ourselves to failure. Wars only accelerate death. Better we study, learn about how and why “others” do what they do, and learn ways to coexist. We will all live longer.