Monday, May 02, 2005

Size Matters

John, a man who worked in the row next to my team, died last week. He was away on a business trip and didn't meet his teammates on time for the morning meeting. One of them went back to his hotel room and found he had passed away. He was only in his mid-forties.

An autopsy is being performed, but everyone is assuming he had a heart attack, since it was so sudden. And also, because he was a big man. Very overweight. Fittingly, the proper term is probably "morbidly obese".

My team was in a meeting this afternoon when our old boss stopped by to ask us a question. One of my coworkers asked him if he had heard about John. He said, "Yeah. I'm not really surprised. The man wasn't exactly the picture of health." End of story. The subject was quickly changed and he moved on.

Once he was out of earshot, my coworker commented on the coldness of his reaction. Having worked for him, we all know he has an especially strong drive for perfection in his life. He has little sympathy for projects or people who fall outside of his ideal. But his statement seemed to say, "Of course he died young. He was a big fattie." Even more so, he seemed to say, "He deserved to die young, because he was so fat."

I have a dark, twisted mind. One of my biggest fears is that I will die young. That I might leave my children, they would never remember me and would grow up without a mother. But even more so, I'm terrified I will die young in the "wrong" way. Somehow, it would be better to die in a car accident, or due to something that wasn't preventable. But to die of a so-called fat disease? Heart attack? Stroke? That would be the ultimate humiliation, closing out a life where my weight has often left me prey to judgement, ridicule and disgust.

I am just as much to blame as the next person. You know you think it, subconsciously, when someone dies or has a health scare. "She shouldn't have eaten all those sweets." "He never did exercise like he should have." "She smoked like a chimney for years." It's easy to point the finger. To try to explain away the randomness of life with blame. To try to comfort ourselves in the fact that we don't eat/drink/smoke like they did. We are immune. We won't suffer the same fate.

It really makes me sad that this man died so young, his wife was widowed, children made fatherless, and yet his weight is what stands out. Is it any less of a tragedy that he died because he was overweight? Does it make his life less valuable because he didn't jog 5 miles a day?

Hopefully, I will travel a different path than John. I plan to live a long healthy life, and I struggle with that goal every day. But there are no guarantees. Thin people die young, and fat people live to be old. No matter what, death always comes too soon.

Maybe I'll be one of the lucky ones who will live to a ripe old age. You really never know. For now, all I can do is hope that when my time comes, I will be remembered more for the size of my heart than the size of my waistline.

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