I opened up the New York Times wellness briefing today to discover that Jane Brody, turning 79, had been working at the newspaper for forty years. That’s just about as long as I have been reading her columns. We started subscribing to the paper when my husband and I moved to Manhattan in 1981 so that he could take a job at Columbia University. The job didn’t last long, but our loyalty to the newspaper did. We are still reading, even though we’ve been in California for over thirty years. All that time I’ve followed Brody through her many phases as cooking maven, exercise coach, and now advisor for the older set.
I’m not sure if I have ever consciously acted on Brody’s advice, but I do know that my life has changed in ways that she has recommended. I used to eat meat; now I almost never do. Even chicken is a fairly rare dish at dinner. I used to exercise sporadically; now I am a pretty big exercise fanatic. These are trends that Brody has endorsed and I now claim as my own.
But Brody also irritates me. When she writes about her own life the tone is often, “If you would live like me, everything would be better.” When I think about her columns, the word “just” comes to mind. Need to lose weight? Just eat vegetables! Having trouble with your knees? Just start swimming! Need to get out and walk? Just get a dog! Finding it hard to negotiate the stairs in your walk up apartment? Just move to the suburbs! If any of these things were easy (or cheap) we would all be a lot thinner and healthier.
Today’s column is a perfect example. She acknowledges that many people are having trouble getting motivated during the current pandemic. The solution? Look for internal, not external, motivational factors to discover what is meaningful to you. The grand gesture is probably not possible right now, so find smaller things to express your values. Worried about the end of the world? Just make soup for your widowed neighbor!
This is sage, almost saccharine advice. But can such baby steps really conquer the fear and uncertainty that surrounds us now? My family is meaningful to me, but I still don’t know when I can safely move my mother into a care facility or when I’ll see my daughter again. I’ve already made masks for them, but I’m still worried. Perhaps it is a failure in my character, but making masks for strangers hasn’t filled the void.