When I was researching the Mediterranean Diet on the Island of Crete I interviewed a photographer about the Island and their healthy traditions. In 1950’s Crete, the people of the Island had some of the highest longevity rates in the world. The first researchers who went to Crete could only find one man on the whole island who had heart disease. People lived long, productive lives with very little illness. People mostly died of old age.
Much has changed in Crete since the 1950’s, especially recently. The first McDonald’s has arrived and so has the promise of a better life in the cities.
The photographer I interviewed spoke of the young people who were leaving the villages in the mountains to come work in the cities, mostly in tourism. They were wanting the modern life, fancy clothes, partying, and the appeal of good money to be made off visitors. I saw these young people everywhere I went, but didn’t see the older people.
I asked the photographer where the older people were. He told me they were still in the villages, he told me they were not living to the ages they once did. What he said next, sent chills through me: “since the young people have left, they are dying of broken hearts.”
I recently saw a segment on Nightline about the Island of Ikaria. Like Crete, it is a Greek Island, also known for the amazing health and longevity of it’s inhabitants. The difference is that, unlike Crete, it has been mostly untouched by modern life and remains a place where elders are revered for their experience and wisdom. I imagine that as this Island becomes more of a tourist attraction that this too may change.
This all makes me think of America and how, we too, have lost the tradition of reverence for our elders. There is a disconnect between generations. Young people are no longer receiving the benefit of learning from their elders and the elders are either moving far away to live in Florida or they are being shipped to nursing homes. We, too, once had the highest respect for the wisdom of older people, but this has changed dramatically. Many old people in this country are “dying alone of broken hearts”.
What we lose when we don’t learn from our elders:
Our family history
Our connection with the past
No wonder we are the most anxious, obese, and incarcerated country in the world. We have lost the connection with the spiritual glue that had held us together since the beginning of time and we are now all walking around like zombies, slowly dying of broken hearts.