Hominy & Hash
A HEART FULL OF IRONY
by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga., April 20, 2004 - McDonald Corporation's Chairman and CEO Jim Cantalupo died yesterday in Orlando, Florida. The news reports were all about the sudden death from apparent heart attack, not mentioning what was being served at this bi-annual franchisee meeting of the fast food pioneer. Nor did anyone offer Cantalupo's health history. His death came "out of nowhere," those at the meeting said, many of them crying.
People die every day and more often than not from heart attacks. It's a surprise, however, when the victim is young - and 60 was young indeed for this energetic executive. The surprise is compounded when we learn of someone who at the time of his death was devoting his talents toward turning the image of obese Americans around to one of a people dedicated to exercise, healthy attention to proper foods in sensible proportions.
Along with knowing we just lost one of our best and brightest comes the quiet realization that none of us escapes the notion that we do not know the hour or the moment of our own deaths. We can study the charts, measure the pressure, coat ourselves in protective oils and lotions in our fight against the deadly sun, ward off the stings of mosquitoes, bees and horse flies, and vitaminize, herbalize, exercise, give up eggs in the morning and steak at night. We eat a big bowl of oatmeal every morning and still have no guarantee we won't keel over when the Grim Reaper comes "out of nowhere."
Naturally, we do all those things because we are gamblers. We intend to beat the odds. The irony comes when one of our centenarians smiles for Williard Smith's camera and explains her longevity as attributable to the ice-cold baths she takes each morning. "Of course, in my younger years I had to chop the blocks of ice myself," she might say. (She 'might' say, and no doubt would say, but, dear reader, I made that part up.)
It's almost as if Jim Cantalupo set us in the right direction and then, since his job was finished, left the scene. That scenario is not too different from the life and death of another Jim - Jim Fixx.
Fixx started the running revolution that shook up this country and sent us all into the streets dressed in shorts, t-shirts and Nikes. Where we once watched for "Deer Crossing" signs, we now had to be alert for "joggers," as we came to be called. (I'm using the "royal we" since I do not jog. I fancy myself a "power walker" - maybe tomorrow.)
Jim Fixx's "The Complete Book of Running" has been on my shelf since the late '70s. I never read it, but it always felt good to know it was there - if tomorrow ever happens to come. He ran 60 miles a week and showed us all how to improve our heart health through exercise. He died at 52 of a massive heart attack while on his routine jog.
I recall at the time that he was on a downward hill which seemed ironic then, and now. Actually, his death was not caused by exercise but by the cholesterol that clogged his arteries: One at 100 percent, another at 80 percent and still a third at 70 percent. His diet wasn't important enough to report then. Doctors started tackling that aspect only later - after coming to grips with the tobacco menace.
Unless you are truly faced with your own mortality, there's no sense second-guessing when and how the end will come. Just as I hedge my bets with health care, so also do I have a spiritual plan.
When I was a little girl I leaned to say a brief prayer for the grace of a happy death. It didn't mean too much then, but it became part of my unconscious routine and I still pray for such a blessing: the grace of a happy death. To me, a happy death is when you die with your house in order. That's what I want and expect after all these years of earnest petition.
I want to say right now that if I sever the ties that bind me to Earth, I will confront St. Peter: "How would you like it," I'd say indignantly, "if someone came to your house and it wasn't in order?"
"Well, that's exactly what you are doing now, dear Constance," he'd respond. "You're not supposed to be here; your house is not in order, so don't try to come into mine. Go back."
"Oh. I thought so." I'd say, and somewhat embarrassed, waft downward.
I am that confident that my attention to health and well-being will pay off and my house will be in order before I'm called "to go."
Of course, my house will never, ever, be in order. Trust me.