I recently read a compelling article about longevity in The New York Times Magazine, drawn into the beauty of the life of people on the Greek island of Ikaria. Dan Buettner, the writer of “The Island Where People Forget to Die,” has been seeking to find the key to their extraordinarily long lives.
Their food is simple, homegrown and primarily vegetarian. Herbal teas and homemade wines are consumed daily. Exercise is just a normal part of life, not something that has to be shoved into an overly busy schedule. Everyone gets plenty of sleep, waking naturally, napping often.
Just those things alone have to be instrumental as the islanders live their long lives together. The people of Ikaria are vital and active well into their 90s and even beyond.
However, Buettner noted the impossibility of importing their food, sleep and exercise habits as a solution to the diseases of civilization that plague us in more developed countries. Buettner writes:
“As soon as you take culture, belonging, purpose or religion out of the picture, the foundation for long healthy lives collapses. The power of such an environment lies in the mutually reinforcing relationships among lots of small nudges and default choices. There’s no silver bullet to keep death and the diseases of old age at bay. If there’s anything close to a secret, it’s silver buckshot.”
Silver buckshot: Everything has to come together to live this well. No one element can be removed for the system to work properly.
The society described here comes about as close to God’s will on earth as it is in heaven that I’ve ever seen. However, most of us in our more civilized world would find it nearly impossible to endure.
There is no privacy on Ikaria: Everyone knows everyone else’s business and that helps keep deeds of darkness in check. Isolation can’t happen — someone will always knock on the door and come in or bring people out.
Worship is not an “if I’m not too busy today” option. They worship together, fast together and feast together.
They have few possessions, and small homes. But they’ve got everything.
When I read this, I looked at my morning. I had awakened with the usual list of things that I saw as necessary to accomplish that day. I hauled myself out of bed onto the treadmill, got in my required “steps” for the morning before fixing a cup of tea and looking at the newspaper. There I read with increasing sadness yet once more about our uncivil society, our lack of respect for others in our discourse and actions, our willingness to destroy others for the sake of our pleasure and our ambitions.
But the article about these people on that Greek island reminded me: We don’t have to be like this. We can live decently, in connection with one another, with nature and with God. However, just about every single thing in our so-called civilized culture fights against it.
To live as “realized” or “actualized” or “perfected” or “fully sanctified” or “saved” or “healthy” or “integrated” (pick your preferred phrase) human beings, every part of our lives must be touched and examined.
Too many people hide terrible things behind too many of our front doors, whether nicely painted and framed by well-manicured lawns or barely attached with rusty hinges and framed with broken glass and rampant weeds. Our valued privacy gives too much space for those deeds of darkness.
We poison our bodies and souls with sickly “foods” and sicker visual imagery, insisting we harm no one but ourselves.
We ignore times of worship, with the necessary disciplines of confession, forgiveness, meditation and instruction, because they are just too much trouble. The desperate need for sleep from our overscheduled lives or the hangover from the previous nights “pleasures” or the addictions of shopping, TV or just plain laziness win out.
We’re losing our minds, our souls, our communities and our hopes, all in the name of … what?
THE REV. CHRISTY THOMAS is the pastor of First United Methodist Church of Krum. Reach her by calling 940-482-3482 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .