These were the first words said by a woman who just found out she had incurable cancer and was going to die soon: “I should have eaten more steak!” Seven months later, she was gone…

I heard this anecdote from a friend who knows the widower. My friend (let’s call him Goliath, or G for short) and I were discussing mortality, health, and discipline. G often comments how disciplined I am to avoid foods with cholesterol. I often remind him how I used to eat half a pint of ice cream with chocolate syrup almost every night. Then my cholesterol rose to heart-attack-warning levels, so I gave it up. Eat a lot of sorbet now, almost no cheese, fat-free yogurt, soy milk and olive oil instead of more delicious butter. Now my cholesterol is down. Hopefully I will live longer and more healthfully.

Do I miss those foods. Sometimes, for sure. But knowing they are bad for me, I usually am just fine without them. If I suddenly learn that I will be dead in a few months or days, I don’t think it will bother me that I modified my diet and exercised more to stay healthy, fit, and enjoying these later years. But that’s me.

I remember a smoker saying that he is likely to live just 6 or 7 years less than a non-smoker. “Worth it,” he pronounced. Of course his addictions were no comparison to my giving up butter. But it’s all a balance, G and I decided. What if you live 10 years in good health, rather than 20 years in and out of hospitals and doctors’ offices?

Of course you could die tomorrow in an accident. In that case you wouldn’t have time to regret having avoided harmful foods and life style. But working out the balance is quite confronting. Why earn more money for older age and health costs, if you think you will die in a year? Why stay fit and flexible? Why not cheat on your wife or husband? Why spend time helping out friends and supporting unemployed children? Do whatever you want!

It’s almost impossible to live solely for the moment, in spite of movies and novels starring glamorous, smiling hedonists. But is it really tempting to you?

When I was working at my own publishing company in the early years, I was newly divorced and wanted to be as stabilizing as possible for my two little girls. When they had summer and holiday vacations, I took huge amounts of time off, regardless of the business consequences. One year I was with the girls 104 days, including 26 weekends (52 of the days). Of course I felt guilty at first, but then I would tell myself that if any of my staff members complained, I would say I only had six months to live. That would justify the time away, I reasoned. In their minds as well as mine.

So I am familiar with that confrontation of how much we…I…should watch the diet, be responsible, do good deeds, exercise, say NO to another beer, another shirt, another vacation.
We each have to work it out, and it a challenge every time we look at a menu, open the freezer, hear about a friend’s trip to Bora Bora, see a friend divorce his wife of decades and become the playboy of the suburban world.

Good luck with your choices. And may the Force of long, healthy life be with you…