There was an amazing story recently in the NY Times about a Greek man living in the US. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in his mid 60s and given the prognosis of 9 months to live. He decided that instead expensive treatments and a costly funeral in the US, he would return to his native Greek island of Ikaria.
He moved back in with his parents and went to bed to be cared for by his wife and mother. But he started to feel strong enough to go out so reconnected with childhood friends and re-established his Sunday trips to church.
As the months passed he felt strong enough to do some gardening (a common activity on the island) and planted vegetables thinking he might not live to enjoy them, but he would enjoy growing them. Not only did he live to enjoy them but with his regular routines now of plenty of sleep, regular walks up the hill, spending time in the garden and in the evenings with his friends at the bar, and his weekly visits to the church he began to feel well enough to tackle the old, neglected family vineyard.
Three and a half decades on he is now 97, producing 400 gallons of wine a year from his vineyard and seems to be cancer free.
What can we learn from this inspirational story? Well, the author of the story in the NY Times concludes this –
If you pay careful attention to the way Ikarians have lived their lives, it appears that a dozen subtly powerful, mutually enhancing and pervasive factors are at work. It’s easy to get enough rest if no one else wakes up early and the village goes dead during afternoon naptime. It helps that the cheapest, most accessible foods are also the most healthful — and that your ancestors have spent centuries developing ways to make them taste good. It’s hard to get through the day in Ikaria without walking up 20 hills. You’re not likely to ever feel the existential pain of not belonging or even the simple stress of arriving late. Your community makes sure you’ll always have something to eat, but peer pressure will get you to contribute something too. You’re going to grow a garden, because that’s what your parents did, and that’s what your neighbors are doing. You’re less likely to be a victim of crime because everyone at once is a busybody and feels as if he’s being watched. At day’s end, you’ll share a cup of the seasonal herbal tea with your neighbor because that’s what he’s serving. Several glasses of wine may follow the tea, but you’ll drink them in the company of good friends. On Sunday, you’ll attend church, and you’ll fast before Orthodox feast days. Even if you’re antisocial, you’ll never be entirely alone. Your neighbors will cajole you out of your house for the village festival to eat your portion of goat meat
Those are probably reasonable conclusions but what inspires me most about this this story is the series of simple, pragmatic choices this man made. He didn’t set off to “beat cancer”, or to find the elusive magical cure. No, what he did was chose, moment by moment, day by day, to live. He might have died in his bed within days of returning to Ikaria. He would have had the death he chose, if that were the case. But he was not at any point focused on trying to determine the detailed outcomes.
Here is what inspires me about this story – at each stage he was focused on how he would live today and at no point did he think how to escape death.