The Street Key

By Dr. Jim Ferguson

The life force seems to beat stronger in some folks than in others. As a doctor I’ve observed this, but as a scientist I don’t understand the phenomena. We’ve all heard stories of aged couples where the surviving spouse strangely dies shortly after the other. It’s almost like the will to live is lost when some fundamental part has departed.

In some ways the cells of your body function similarly. If a crucial organelle is lost or cellular DNA is damaged, death results. Interestingly, if cellular damage occurs through toxins, trauma or radiation, inflammation results. Outwardly, we see this inflammatory process as, for instance, a red, hot, swollen and painful ankle joint. At the cellular level, inflammatory chemicals are released by injured tissue to hopefully begin the healing process and avoid cellular or even organismal death. Inflammation can be readily observed under the microscope by a pathologist. A second type of cellular change known as apoptosis also results in cellular death, but without any observable inflammation. It’s as if the cells are programmed to die. The mechanism of apoptosis is thought to reside in DNA.

A friend of mine says, “You’re either getting older or you’re dead.” Our bodies do change as we age, and though I’m not as strong as I once was, I have compensated with greater wisdom. We can resist some aspects of the aging process by exercise, diet and, perhaps, medications, which lesson vascular injury from high blood pressure, for instance. However, I can’t decide to live to one hundred and fifty years old. In fact, humans are “programmed” to live about one hundred and ten years under optimum conditions. This is a genetic reality. Perhaps the gene or genes that determine longevity can be reprogrammed, but at this point humans don’t have the technology or maturity to manipulate our DNA.

For the present, we can choose to live well. A previous essay called A Well Being explored this notion. Components of living well are our definition of wellness and the physical realities of illness or aging. Some might also add that aging is a state of mind. However, I am convinced that a key aspect of successful living is a spiritual perspective. Though I am a Christian, this notion of spirituality is transcultural and timeless.

I recognize my bias regarding wellness when I compare my life to others. A friend of mine once told me that God sees each of us as we might view pedestrians from the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building. The pedestrians measure each other, whereas God sees us equally in his bird’s eye view, and loves us all.

I avoid using people’s names in my columns. The exceptions are my wife, Becky, who is my editor, and my grandkids, after permission from their mothers. I am going to break that precedent for this column because it is a surprise for my mother-in-law, Joanna Venable. She’s a big fan of my essays, and on April 8th, 2017, she turns one hundred years old. And despite her age-related aches and pains, her mind and the life force remain vibrant.

Joanna, epitomizes a life well lived. She was born in 1917 with America at war in Europe. Her family was, by most standards, poor, but they lived with a bedrock of faith. I admire an inquisitive mind which Joanna still has after one hundred years. Despite being born in a time which did not allow women modern advantages, Joanna went to Tusculum College. She recently commented to one of her daughters that she wishes she could tour factories and investigate their manufacturing processes. And her birthday wish? A gift for the woman who has it all was a street key, a tool she wanted to turn off water at the street if a pipe leaks!

A life is composed of a series of events and relationships. We all have memories of the past which together affords us a foundation for perhaps the most important time, the present day. The Psalmist sang of the primacy of “the day the Lord hath made,”  in Psalm 118:24, which has become my mantra. And since we Westerners think in linear time, we also look forward, into the future, hopefully with hope. (Ancient Eastern and Central American cultures viewed time as circular rather than linear.)

You may find it strange, but I’m reading a book on Western Civilization. I took Western Civilization in college, but my formal education was largely science related. My informal education, grounded in the humanities, is ongoing. We know of Socrates from his student Plato. Plato’s student, Aristotle, taught Alexander the Great. We call university professors academics, a name derived from Plato’s Academy in Athens. Alexander was not a bookish academic because he went on to  conquer the known world. One last tidbit, the concept of universities comes down to us from Aristotle’s school the Lyceum, the first “university.”

The Apostle Paul was no shoddy philosopher (lover of wisdom). His 13th chapter of 1st Corinthians is thought provoking and the prose is sublime. I’m fascinated by his concluding sentences describing man as “seeing dimly as in a mirror” – and they had pretty crummy mirrors 2000 years ago. He also says, “we know in part.” Little did I realize that Brother Paul was echoing Plato who considered our thoughts a reflection of the Divine’s. If you doubt me, Google Raphael’s great painting The School of Athens which depicts Plato pointing upwards to Heaven’s transcendent reality.

And man’s quest to understand his origin, satisfy his curiosity and find purpose continues in this pseudo philosopher, the centenarian Joanna and my Mother who is also seeking wisdom by learning to use an iPhone and expand her window on the world.

I suspect God is an inquisitive being. After all he made man, and who knows what his creation will do next?

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