As a kid, I looked out at the wide world and the years ahead of me as some sort of ocean of infinity, some huge chasm, that was never actually going to be crossed. Oh, sure, I'd swing and swim, and move forward, but I'd never really reach the point that my grandfather had or my father was at. After all, they were...ahem...older.
My father was a police officer and it always amazed me how many people he knew from all walks of life. It was the job that gave him that luxury, or vantage point on life, I suppose, but it also gave him an unusual view on death as well. Some of his friends died at an early age, much earlier than I would have guessed, but then again, when I was 10, my dad was 54, so he was getting older and many of his older friends were at, or had already met, retirement age. Plus the injuries and work took its toll on some, as police and firemen seemed to comprise most of the closest family friends.
Yet, it seemed people in that era either died early with some incurable childhood disease, died as a result of some horrible accident, from one of the wars, or lived well into their retirement years. Oh yes, there were other causes of death, but it seems like today we have more types of disease and medical problems than ever before, and more people dying of more maladies at younger ages than in the past. What's the reason?
Heart attack and stroke are major killers, but much of their lethality can be prevented by diet and exercise and the latest medicines, such as statins, can help reduce arterial plaque and reduce the potential for heart attack and stroke. Anti-platelet therapy can also help reduce the production of blood clots, and reduce the risk of cerebral thrombosis, coronary thrombosis and stroke.
But what about all the chemicals we have been exposed to that nobody ever told us about or warned us they were bad for us? The herbicides, defoliants, pesticides, sterilants, plasticizers, benzene, benzine (they are two totally different chemicals) MEK, MIBK, Acetone, Toluol, and a thousand others we've been exposed to.
How about the chemicals pregnant mothers were exposed to before the electronics industry discovered the checicals and processes from certain types of circuit board manufacturing was detrimental to the unborn fetus? Components in the manufacture of the boards, including capacitors, were often made with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB's) which were extremely toxic . Glycol ethers caused serious health problems for women of child-bearing age. How many children were born deformed, or crippled or with a mental handicap because of those and dozens of other dangerous chemicals those women came into contact with, inhaled or otherwise absorbed into their bodies? The internet is alive with stories of those exposures!
Why didn't our own government 'fess up to the problems with Agent Orange before Vietnam Veteran's wives started having children born with Spina Bifida? And the women Vietnam Vets started having children with the same condition? And let's be honest here, spina bifida is the tip of the iceberg when you look at all the other complications that can beset babies with this issue; hydrocephalus, Chiari II malformation, tethered spinal cord, urinary tract disorders, latex allergies, learning disabilities and more. Yet nobody wanted to tell the poor soldier he was getting into this stuff. Or handling it or loading it or anything else.
Tell the vet the stuff was harmless when he has any of the "presumptive conditions" on the list including numerous cancers caused by Agent Orange. Yes, some of the conditions may not have been caused by the stuff, but try telling that to a 30 year old man in the late 70's and early 80's who's wasting away from a cancer he's never even heard of before! Now multiply that by the thousands who are now in their 60's and beyond where health often takes a turn for the worse just because of age, and the prognosis isn't all that good.
Has the government turned around their thinking and started telling the troops all about the "bad stuff"? Not on your life! Iraq and Afghanistan vets still have the same problems, although different compounds to deal with. However they are being hustled through the VA system faster than the older vets so at least they are receiving faster care. The downside of that is it leaves some of the vets on the back burner to deal with war injuries and illnesses from 40 years ago! It seems that's because the war in the middle east is on everyones' mind and Vietnam is old news; or at least that's what most of the older vets believe. Getting swept under the carpet again. Now PTSD is a big deal...ten, twenty, thirty years ago or more it was brushed off, and people told to suck it up. It's in the public eye so better do something about it and, oh yeah, 2008 is an election year!
Same with the farmer who grows your food. Do you think they really know every nuance of the chemical that gets sprayed on the crops? Without those chemicals, we'd be eating lots less food at a much higher price, and the yields would be much lower per acre, likely. But the chemical manufacturers pass the government labeling requirements, sometimes barely in my opinion, and sell poison to the farmer and he obeys the label directions and applies it to his crops, He's very careful to assure you won't get sick from eating those crops, but the farmer, his fieldworkers and others who handle the equipment and chemicals can, and do. Some die every year from pesticide poisoning, and some die slowly as a result of long-term exposure. Some have effects that never go away, like the cholinesterase inhibitors, where some people can never be around the chemical again their entire life after prolonged exposures, or even a single acute exposure.
So, think about what you touch and use every day. That acetone or non-acetone nail polish remover makes me laugh because it's going straight to your internal organs when you use it. It's a solvent and nobody tells you that on the label. They package it in a pretty bottle and make it sound so inviting to use! Research it on your computer and find out what the chemical compounds really are, not just the proprietary name, and what they do to your body before you slather stuff on.
Because what doesn't kill you, may really be killing you very slowly, and you just don't know it today, or tomorrow...but someday, there it will be! And, like many, you'll always wonder where did that ever come from?
Finally, I'm now 10 years beyond where my father stood back when I was a boy, looking back over that ocean and chasm, wondering how I could have swung over and swam so quickly to the other side. Like my dad, I've met so many people, and had the luxury to travel to so many more places; my job brought me to see so much good and bad in life, more good than bad, though. I realized that time, war, accidents and friendship have all played a part in taking friends and loved ones away. That the magical, mystical trip was just that, a miracle all in itself, that only I could have lived and only I could have enjoyed. That the laughter, love, tears and joy could have belonged to nobody else but me. The winning, the losing, the soaring and the heartache was mine alone, and it all wrapped up to bring me to the other side and make me what I am today. Not rich nor poor, but just someone who knows who he is and where his roots are.
That all too quickly has the time passed to cross that ocean and stand here on this side, missing some who started the journey, adding and losing some more along the way, and lamenting most those whom I started with but who didn't make it all the way. The bright shining light ahead is a beacon to enjoy the rest of the journey with those I cherish most, and to always remember that life is simply a journey and the one who gets to the end is always a winner, but getting there first isn't really a good idea!