Eat right, sleep tight.
These are two blessings that I had actively avoided during most of my youth. I thought of them as disruptive hassles getting in the way of what life is truly about. At times, I even complained to God and questioned his design choices in creating man.
My insistence against the natural cycle was evident in my lifestyle, as I developed a habit of delaying when I would eat and sleep. For at least a decade, I wouldn’t consume anything until mid-afternoon, and refused to go to bed before collapsing at an ungodly hour. This form of slow suicide persisted right up to when my body started to show noticeable signs of protest. It was just two years ago, at an age of 28, that I stopped the stupidity, and only because I began to suffer chronic pains in my organs, which forced me into eating three punctual meals a day and hitting the sack near the cusp of midnight.
However, it didn’t mean that I became an enthusiast of this relatively healthy routine. The body was willing, but my spirit was still agitated.
Perhaps it would be more relatable if you have ever played an instalment of The Sims series. Much like us, the Sims in these games are mere mortals whose aspirations and dreams often get tied down by biological necessities. They spend a third of their existence dormant between sheets. They must keep up with comfort and hygiene levels; worst of all, they can never escape the endless cycle of preparing food, devouring it, and redistributing the remnants down the crapper. They need to perform such activities to sustain their physical and mental health, without which they would live sad and unfruitful lives, making the game an exercise in futility.
As a player, I find this tedious, yet realistic. After all, it is meant to be a simulation — one that underpins my scepticism regarding our high-maintenance selves.
In coming across This War of Mine, I was shown a different perspective. The game is also a life simulation, but instead of it taking place in a peaceful suburban setting, the days unfold within a city under siege. While many of the basic actions performed by the survivors don’t strike one as dissimilar to what a Sim would do, the change in context shifts their meaning and purpose.
Meals, for example, becomes a luxury. Wartime civilians don’t skip lunch because of laziness; rather, the dearth of ingredients governs their eating schedule. To persevere, the survivors must only dig into their supplies cache every other day, lest they run out for the whole week. And of course, this presents hardly any choice to what constitutes a menu. Rat meat transforms into as delicate a dish as canned tuna, and flora sprouting in the garden may be just as worthwhile as the precious little leftovers that looters overlooked in the local supermarket. I cannot picture a Sim lasting half a day in this environment, for their kind issues complaints the moment they taste a hint of staleness. By contrast, the survivors happily nibble on whatever they can swallow.
Likewise, sound sleep isn’t a daily guarantee. The darkness of night provides good cover from madmen with weapons. It is, therefore, imperative that the survivors take turns to go on nocturnal scavenging runs if they wish to replenish various resources. Those who stay in the shelter may not get any sleep, too. Posting a guard during these dim hours becomes a matter of prudence, in case someone desperate enough to rob or steal decides to pay a visit. Finally, for those in a position to rest, it comes down to whether they spread themselves across the cold concrete floor or atop a makeshift bed fashioned out of wreckages of war. Harsh options contrast to the cosy nests that a Sim would enjoy, but make no mistake, the survivors remain ever grateful when they have had the privilege to lie on anything that passes as bedding. If only the Sims were less discerning!
By presenting a situation where people often struggle to meet even their most basic needs, This War of Mine calls my stubborn views into question. Early on, I looked at the survivors and saw pitiful lives not worth living. They haven’t the time to enjoy being creative; they haven’t the energy to pursue meaningful activities, and they surely haven’t the leisure to sit around and play videogames. Yet, with every effort and opportunity to endure another day, they appear filled with appreciation and hope. They understand, as I do, that humans don’t live to simply eat, sleep, and repeat. To show petulance toward the vital upkeep of our bodies is my own failure to receive fully the gift of life.
The Creator crafted us with physicality, and he continues to sustain it on a daily basis. If I am to live well, I should first acknowledge this source and respond with thanksgiving. It is a lesson of humility, a fitting character for perishable creatures in the presence of an eternal God.
After all, the last people that I would want to imitate are the rebellious Israelites who took things for granted. God didn’t hesitate to predict their predilection towards idolatry, saying:
When I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, the land I promised on oath to their ancestors, and when they eat their fill and thrive, they will turn to other gods and worship them, rejecting me and breaking my covenant.1
Isn’t it remarkable that people would satisfy their own stomachs and find comfort in a prosperous environment — all of which were made possible for them by the author and preserver of life — only to turn their attention to false deities that neither loved nor cared for them? Sloppy attitudes lead to severe transgressions.
To this day, my body remains fragile in light of its tortured past. I am, nevertheless, trying to work the acquired wisdom into my lifestyle. It involves trusting the hands that feed and resting on wings that offer refuge. I suppose a good place to start is by saying grace.
- Deuteronomy 31:20 (NIV).