This is my first post for ONE.org, an organization I’m honored to work with not only because of their humanitarian efforts, but also for the use of “hard-headed” in their tagline. The photo above is courtesy of my dear friend C.C. Chapman, who toured Ghana with ONE last year.
I’ve had two women on my mind lately. They are counterpoints; polar ends of a spectrum whose very existence is difficult to reconcile.
Each woman is fighting a battle — to the death — on her own end of the spectrum. And though one of them faces a matter of critical urgency, the other presents a glimpse of the future which we cannot ignore.
Let us call woman #1 “Adowa”. She lives in a developing country where starvation is a very real possibility, and where every day that ends with some form of nourishment for Adowa and her family is a victory; a triumph over death.
Let’s call woman #2 “Heather”. She lives in a modern society where food is plentiful, and career and family demand a lot of her. She’s wearing down her body, which is tantamount to a time bomb that is primed and ready to set off a chronic illness when stress and unhealthy eating become too much for her system to bear. Heather’s lifestyle will kill her one day, and that day will likely come way too soon.
Now, it would be easy to stop right here and profess that we cannot equivocate one situation with the other. I agree. There are choices available to Heather that are not conscious — or even imaginable — possibilities for Adowa.
My reason for taking a closer look at these two women, however, goes beyond moral equivocation. It is a look at the future, and poses the question of just how long it will take for Adowa and her sisters to internalize problems just like Heather’s, and how we can take responsibility now to prevent that from happening.
This might seem like an academic argument.
There is no denying that starvation is a fierce and deadly enemy; its effects are quite immediate and visible, and saving lives must be the priority.
But we must also stop for a moment and look at the catastrophic numbers that surround chronic illness. While developed lands and modern societies offer plenty of food innovations that will shuffle us down our mortal coil, 50% of us will shuffle in misery from chronic pain, diabetes, obesity, or any number of their co-morbid conditions.
1 out of 2 people. It’s you or me.
There are no easy answers; it’s difficult even to grasp what the right questions might be. It’s hard to justify pausing to examine a non-fatal condition like fibromyalgia, which tends to be triggered in the mid-30s, when those in food-insecure regions will be lucky to see their 30th birthdays.
And yet we must examine it.
From a 40,000-foot view, it looks morally irresponsible to pass along the diseases of our development when we know they are avoidable. We are slowly watching as waistlines expand in every developed country, watching as cancer rates are soaring.
Heather — and many “modern women”, really — have failed, in a certain capacity, at the game of life. We worked too many hours and didn’t pay attention to our bodies; we made unhealthy food choices that drove our systems to overload. And now in our state of chronic illness, the physical pain is sometimes awful and the economic costs are in the billions. But what are those things when compared to a crisis like imminent starvation?
If I was Heather, standing face-to-face with Adowa, what would I say after ensuring her immediate needs were met? “Embrace the future, but not too much! That stuff will kill you!”
I don’t mean to be flippant about something so serious, but the constructs of these two women keep me up at night. The challenges they pose are so huge, how on earth can we serve both in a way that works?
What are the questions to ask? What are the measures to put in place? What is there to teach? These are the very things I’m setting out to explore and, hopefully, answer.
I lie awake at night with my wheels turning because I want to see Adowa flourish and achieve — and I don’t want to see her come all that way, only to end up in a state of long, drawn-out suffering that can be avoided. I want to see Heather manage her life and health powerfully, for her to create a different outcome for herself and a future free of chronic illness for the next generation.
I lie awake because I am Heather.
And when I’m in line at the supermarket, watching piles of junk food sail down the conveyor belt, I want to grab every person by the shoulders and say “WE CAN DO BETTER THAN THIS!”
It’s why the process has to start with me; I’m the one carrying the warning flags, and I will wave them like a madwoman until there is a different outcome. Because we can do better for Adowa and Heather — and it’s going to take a certain kind of honesty, self-reflection and personal responsibility that have fallen out of fashion.
I’m OK with making those things trendy again. Are you?
Take action with ONE now. Urge world leaders to make measurable commitments to fight chronic malnutrition for 25 million children by 2016 by signing our petition here.