The questions started a year ago. “Are you sick? Are you dying? Are you well? Are you losing weight?”
The answers were no, no, no and yes. I explained with building frustration that I was simply losing some of the pounds I’d found over the years in fast-food bags, ice cream cartons and by visiting the Milky Way with my friends, The 3 Musketeers.
By the time I hit my wedding-day weight of 160 pounds — a loss of 46 pounds from my all-time high — hardly a day passed without someone asking about my health.
Because my father died of cancer at a relatively young age of 50, my well-meaning mother launched a full-scale campaign to get me into the doctor to make sure nothing was seriously wrong. I gave in just before she started running costly television commercials and online banner ads.
I made an appointment with the wonderful Dr. Regina Bray of Fairfax Family Practice in Fairfax, Va. Over the course of our visits, she checked me for everything imaginable. She tested my blood, kidneys and bones. We discussed exercise, family history, career, stress and diet.
She introduced me to a new term: sleep hygiene. It’s the promotion of better sleep habits by going to bed and rising at a consistent time, avoiding the use of phones, laptops and television in bed, and even resisting the urge to read a good book while you drift off. I pledged to do better with all of the above.
Dr. Bray also asked me to keep a food diary and record everything I ate. Because I wanted to be a good patient, and because my mother couldn’t fly the airplane banner over my home forever, I agreed to keep studious logs of every single thing I ate or drank on seven random, non-consecutive days. Meanwhile, my weight remained steady between 158 and 165 pounds.
What was the doctor’s first reaction on my next visit? “Mr. Wright, are you aware that gummy bears are not on the food pyramid?”
After all the tests and questionnaires, I was finally given a clean bill of health last week on my final visit with Dr. Bray before she takes a new job in the Midwest. With a smile and the kind concern of a good doctor, she looked at me and said, “I feel pretty confident I can give you my blessing. You’re not dying.” She paused and laughed, “Not today, anyway.”
We shook hands, I wished her well on her new adventure and we said goodbye. Then, as soon as I stepped off the elevator, I called my mother. “Hey Mom, guess who’s not dying? This guy!”
As I made the 70-mile journey home, I thought about all the people who’d wondered both privately and aloud about my health. I considered their bold assumptions and how I’d lost patience with the constant queries.
Friends, neighbors and church pals had all assumed the very worst. Or was I the one making assumptions?
I'd chosen to imagine that every comment, question and furrowed brow must have come from Gossipy Curiosityville. I didn't permit myself to ponder, "What if they're all just concerned? What if everyone who stops me on the street or at the mall is genuinely worried? What a blessing!"
All these months passed with me assuming that everyone else was assuming the very worst. Whew, that's a lot of assumption! Isn't there an easier way to live?
What if I'd accepted that folks were asking out of sincere concern? What if I gave them the benefit of the doubt and chose to believe they had the best of intentions?
After all, they didn't create my frustration through action; I caused it from reaction.
With my mother satisfied and my doctor ordering me to avoid all doctor's offices for 12 months, I'll make a new pledge. I'll try harder to always assume the best.
So next time you ask if I’m all right, I’ll thank you for checking on me and answer with a patient smile. “I’m not dying — I'm just skinny.”
Jason Wright is a New York Times bestselling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars," "The Wednesday Letters," and "The 96th Annual Apple Valley Barn Dance." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or jasonfwright.com.
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