Breath Of Life

Health is wealth. That’s what my great aunt Helga always used to say, anyway, she lived to the ripe old age of 102. Not only that, but she was in pretty decent nick up until about 98. That’s when her type 1 diabetes finally started to kick in, and her body kind of knew it didn’t have enough fighting power to go up against an infection. Helga always knew how to pick her battles.

I guess that’s why she valued her health throughout her life, over and above other things like striving for the conventional trappings of success. “Your respiratory system is your temple,” she used to say. “Oxygen is the most important thing you can invest in.” That always left me a bit stumped, but I think I get it now. It’s a roundabout way of saying that meeting the physiological requirements of life is what wealth is really all about.

Towards the end, when she had an infected foot ulcer and my dad was looking how much portable hyperbaric chambers cost, she said this to me: “You can’t take oxygen with you.” At the time, I thought it was such a strange thing to say. I mean, I’ve heard the saying that you can’t take ‘it’ with you, but I never thought of oxygen as being ‘it’. I now believe it was her way of saying that, even if you do invest in the building blocks of life, at the end of the day life itself has to end.

I’m not trying to be morbid by going into all this. On the contrary – I actually find it quite life-affirming. If life can’t be preserved, then that’s all the more reason to live it to the full, which is precisely what great aunt Helga did. Aside from being an influential medical policy researcher at a time when it was uncommon for women to do such things, she was also a keen mountaineer and pranayama instructor.

It seems, in fact, that her whole life was dedicated to the act of breathing, which is the very foundation of life itself. I guess she died a wealthy woman, by her own standards.