Ultimate privilege.

I've lived much of my 42 years blissfully unaware I carry a highly controversial food opinion.


I love red delicious apples. Not only do I love them, they're the only apple I eat. And I eat one every day. Yes, I smother (SMOTHER) it with Jif peanut butter, but no other apple variety is worthy of my Jif.


I've recently learned my friends and family are horrified by this. Apparently the generally agreed upon consensus is red delicious apples are the bottom (WAY bottom) of the apple totem pole.


I feel like a freak.


(If you have an hour or so to waste, this twitter thread on controversial food opinions is what the internet was made for.)


I can't say I'm a stranger to holding controversial opinions, they're just typically more consequential than apple preference. I'd like to introduce you to one of them here. But first, some stories. To establish background. Or maybe my defense.


We'll start with my sister-in-law Barb's "Cedar Chest Faceplant" episode.


A little over a year ago, Barb woke to her alarm, got out of bed...and then came to a while later on the floor. Unsure what had happened, but seeing blood and thinking she may have hit her head (and not feeling like she could get up), she used her phone to get a look at her face. Warning - if you are AT ALL squeamish, please do not click. I'm serious. I've warned you. Here is what she saw.


She had fallen face first into the corner of her cedar chest. With her husband out of town, her quick thinking kids took charge. After 60 stitches carefully placed by a plastic surgeon, she looked like this.


One month later, like this:

One year later, like this:

If that transformation doesn't drop your jaw at how amazingly durable our bodies are (insert joke about Barb's hardheadedness here), I don't know what to tell you.


If those pics don't make you marvel at our skin's self-growing resilience, you're hopelessly unimpress-able.


(I walk around all day oblivious to the fact that my skin is absorbing what could be deadly radiation from the sun and turning it into vitamin D to make my bones strong and my skull cedar-chest-proof. This is sorcery.) Have you heard about the boy who was born without skin? Did you know there's an entire category of disorders in which the different skin layers don't adhere to each other? When was the last time I appreciated my skin cells for knowing how and when to stick to each other?

Moving on.


A few weeks ago, Smitty and I were out at dinner. A regular ol' weeknight at one of our regular ol' spots eating one of our regular ol' dishes. Mid conversation, I swallowed a piece of chicken. Only my esophagus did not cooperate and I couldn't breathe. I gave Smitty the "I think I'm choking" look and he took a moment to decide if I would cough it up or if he needed to intervene.


I was not moving air. He hopped up and heimlich-ed. After three or four mid-strength maneuvers with no results, he put a little more oomph into it and the sad, small piece of chicken was free. And disgustingly returned to my plate.


We sat back down. Awkward silence. Other diners had seen the commotion. We tried to proceed normally, but I couldn't eat. And for reasons I still don't know, tears pricked my eyes. It was part embarrassment, I think. Part fear. Part relief.


For whatever small amount of time it actually was, it felt like forever. My body was not doing something I desperately need it to. Something it does all the time without my attention or assistance.

If that experience doesn't remind me how unbelievably fragile I am, I don't think I'll ever get it. If being denied breath for a short time doesn't force me to constantly appreciate my hard working lungs (and heart, and kidneys, and liver, and spleen, and red blood cells, and pancreas, etc, etc, etc) I'm not sure I deserve them.


Do I have any reasonable idea how genius and reliable my body systems are? And also any reasonable idea how fragile and vulnerable? Crazy complexity that operates with zero input from me. Keeping me alive in any given moment, despite the fact that much of nature (the sun, bacteria, viruses) is trying to kill me. Millions of years of evolutionary adaptation continuously sustaining me. Trillions of cells in my body growing, dividing, dying. 24/7/365.


And I have the nerve to ignore all of this magic, and then complain when my back hurts, or my allergies are acting up or, after 42 years of use, my eyes aren't as sharp as they used to be.


Or, taken 1,000 steps further, when one of those trillions of continuous cell births goes awry and cancer grows.

Is the reasonable response, "I wonder why so many of us get cancer?" Or is it, "I can't believe we don't all have cancer all the time?"

How do I so easily take for granted the fifty zillion things that have to occur (rather perfectly) in order to keep me alive? And how do I live everyday just assuming these fifty zillion things will continue their rather perfect occurrence? This is ultimate privilege. And unbelievably presumptuous.


And this is my hot take - I find it hilarious (but also offensive) that we pretend we're mostly in control of our "health".

We're gonna "be healthier" and "eat healthy" and commit to "healthy living". We're gonna make "healthy choices" and start "healthy habits".


Hilarious because the amount of time we spend trying to "manage our health" is dramatically disproportionate to the amount of our health we actually control.

Offensive because of the effect this has on people with unfortunate health situations for which they're in no way responsible. Or (maybe worse) on parents whose children have unfortunate health situations for which they're in no way responsible.


Good health is not an accomplishment, something at which we either succeed or fail, depending on how knowledgeable we are or how capable we are or how committed we are or (definitely worse) how good we are.


An apple a day keeps the doctor away, until it doesn't, and the "healthiest person I know" gets cancer. Or the sharpest, wittiest person I know gets Alzheimer's.


And the cutest, healthiest, normal-est two year old gets leukemia.


And I'm left over here clinging to the idea that if I know enough and do enough, I'll be safe and it will never happen to me. Psychologically understandable but unfortunately inaccurate and ultimately unhelpful in real life.


We've mastered a lot of things here in 2020, but a complete grasp of all the miraculous workings of the human body is not one of them. And until that is (maybe one day?) possible, I will do my best to remember and appreciate the number of things that must go right just for me to wake up every morning. I'll cut my 42-year-old earthly vessel some slack when it doesn't perform its ten zillion functions as flawlessly as I (unreasonably) expect.


And I'll push my fears about what could happen to me aside and accept my lack of control if it means less (undeserved) guilt and shame for those already fighting tough battles. It feels like the healthiest choice.

© 2019 by Ashley Smith & Milagro Midwestern Spa Collective