I spent yesterday visiting with two great kids around 20. The girl was beautiful and bronze. She admitted that she tans easily and didn’t use sun screen yet this summer. He admitted that when you are 20, you never think about what life will be like when you are 40. We were talking about staying fit and healthy, and I had mentioned how many women I saw who may have gained just two pounds a year after college, so they were 40 pounds heavier at age 40, or weighed an extra 60+ pounds by the time they were 60 or 70.

The concerned parent in me told the girl how I worked as a cabana boy in Florida during high school and even used baby oil to intensify my tan. My blond hairs against a bronze skin were often admired by the tourist girls I was trying to impress.

At my annual physical, when I was in my 50’s, my new doctor in Connecticut was also very impressed: “Lots of sun damage here.” He explained that it can take decades for the harm from excessive sun tanning to show itself.

My doc insisted that I see a dermatologist every six months. It may have kept me alive, because in addition to various, benign skin cancers that appeared and needed to be removed, there was one very deadly cancer, melanoma, that surfaced. It was removed early enough that five years have passed without a flare up or serious consequence. Lucky me. But a friend’s friend died of melanoma after years sailing joyfully, and unprotected, in the sun.

So it’s hard to be young and worry about consequences later, when you are old. That was me too in college. I was just trying to pass some courses, get a date, have fun, earn some respect. Normal and very understandable. Maybe many people don’t ever see how earlier actions are connected to later results. I read that the human brain can’t think very far into the future until it is around 25 years old. That is why insurance rates for drivers are so high until age 25. At that time those drivers still alive have a bit more “common sense.” It’s not true when it comes to eating. Not when one third of the people are obese and another third are overweight.

And it may not be true when it comes to our leaders anticipating international relations, economics, climate change. So we just have to muddle along, trying not to be fearful of all the foods we encounter. Being aware enough to not fall into the hole of denial. Controlling what we can of the choices we have. Taking the time to become informed.

Most of us don’t have the energy to do this in addition to all the demands of a busy overstimulated, overwhelming life. We are simply trying to survive, to make it to the next day, the next paycheck, the next vacation or family dinner.

Sometimes we can’t change our behavior, even when we know what the consequences are likely to be. My father used to say, “If the crime is worth the punishment, then commit the crime.” I read an essay about cancer this week by Christopher Hitchens, a famous intellectual who wrote books, high-brow essays and appeared on talk shows. I saw a video today in which he states, “I am dying. Everybody is, but…the process has accelerated on me.” He is undergoing very serious treatment. During a lifetime of expressing his strong, admired and widely disseminated views, he was a continuous smoker and a daily drinker. He was proud of his “imbibing” and even boasted of how much he could drink. So now at age 58, the “punishment” for his “crimes” against his own physical well-being is being paid. So smart, and so dumb.

But only dumb if you look over the life from the end, or from a distance. For those who live in the moment, unwilling to see the possible consequences of one’s actions…for those who can’t be bothered to worry about tomorrow…for those who want to enjoy the moment only…for those who can’t face the future…for those who make fun of the stodgy types with their warnings of gloom and doom…for those who are addicted and won’t—or say they can’t— do anything about their sickly, deadly habits…for all these people there may be consequences, terrible prices to pay for not looking ahead or not changing their patterns when they do look ahead. I only hope they feel it is worth it. I only hope that the Chris Hitchens of the world genuinely decide that all those smokes and drinks were worth that early death. That the sailor who died from sun cancer didn’t regret those hours without sun screen. That those who can’t be bothered to change their diet have no misgivings when their heavier bodies can’t transport them or support them the way they used to.

Somewhere in the middle is a balance between rigidity and free fall. Each of us has to find this personal equilibrium, amidst the taunts of peers, our long-silent mentor voices, the hedonistic echoes inside us. Good luck in your search. May you be able to implement the answers that you encounter.