Healthy Addictions?

(Copied from RabbiGoldberg.Blogspot.Com)

Signs of spring in Chicago are subtle but certainly surfacing.  There are more tourists on segways.  The Cubs have already lost four games.  And I’m about to get back on my road bike.

Actually there’s a new word emerging among serious bicyclists. It’s stravacide, and the “cide” suffix has the same meaning as it does in words like homicide (death caused by a human), suicide (death caused by oneself), fratricide (death caused by a brother), pesticide (death caused to a pest) and the like. The suffix cide means “the act of killing.” 

 Therefore strava-cide is death by strava.

According to David Darlington in “The Strava files” (Bicycling, November 2013), Strava, which is Swedish for “strive,” is the name of a website intended to help cyclists who don’t have fellow riders with whom to train.  It offers cyclists ideas to stay motivated as they pursue their peak performance. On Strava, riders post their rides, along with their times and other stats, and then other riders try to beat those times.

A typical route posted to Strava might include steep hills, and riders can seek to be the “king of the mountain” (KOM) on that climb by completing it the fastest. But, as we all know, pedaling up a hill also means that one must come down the hill, and some riders have been competing on that part of the route, too.

And here’s the problem: In an effort to be KOM downhill, some highly competitive riders have pushed the limits far beyond what’s reasonable.

For example, On June 6, 2010, Kim Flint, a fit, trim rider, posted on Strava his stats from his zoom down South Park Drive, a dangerous descent in the Berkeley hills near the San Francisco Bay area. The hill is 1.4 miles long, with an average grade of 9.6 percent and some pitches as steep as 20 percent. It also contains a series of blind curves.

Flint’s Strava posting indicates that his average speed down the hill was 39.9 mph and his top speed was 49.3 mph — this on a road where the speed limit for cars is 30 mph. 

  A few days later, another Strava user posted his time on the South Park Drive downslope, and he’d beaten Flint by four seconds.  You can guess what happened next.  On June 19, Flint set out to beat that, but, going around a curve on the way down, he lost control, rammed into an SUV, flew 40 feet through the air and crushed his chest. He died in the hospital a few days later.

The Strava website, of course, is not the perpetrator in either of these cases, but, for those of its users who have a super competitive spirit, it seems to have become an addictive medium.

If one has narrowed the pleasure one gets from a bike ride to a pure abstraction of how long it takes — if you’re not interested in where you rode, how you’re riding, or who you’re riding with — that’s exactly what happens with addiction.

The holiday of Passover is coming up.  Beyond the obvious historical association with redemption from Egypt, we can use this time to think of the various ways we enslave ourselves.  Even when it comes to pleasure.

For instance:

Do we enjoy what we have or often think about what we don’t have?

Can we relax and watch TV or are we always thinking about getting things done?

We so often are anything but mindful.

Why is it so hard for us to stop competing, even when we are supposed to be realaxed and happy?

And why do so many of us only measure our success by comparing ourselves to others?

A story: Once there were two merchants who were fierce competitors. Their market stalls were across from each other. Each man would judge his personal success by one standard alone: whether he did more business than his competitor.

Whenever one attracted a customer who made a purchase, he would immediately call out to his competitor and taunt him. The rivalry grew more bitter with each succeeding year. 

One day, God sent an angel to one of the merchants. “The Lord Almighty has chosen to bestow on you a great gift,” announced the angel. “Whatever you desire, you will receive. Ask for whatever you like: riches, long life, healthy children. Just speak the word and it is yours.”

“There is but one condition,” the angel warned. “Whatever you receive, your competitor will receive twice as much. If you ask for a hundred gold coins, he will receive two hundred. If you become famous, he will become twice as famous.” The angel smiled. “This is God’s way of teaching you a lesson.”

”You will give me anything I request?”

The angel nodded.

 The man’s face darkened. “Then I ask that you strike me blind in one eye.” (Homiletics Online)

As Bob Dylan sang, we all are gonna serve somebody.  My hope and prayer is that, as we reflect on the power of addictions in our lives – even healthy ones – we remember to release ourselves from worshiping success and excellence at the price of happiness and health.

We were slaves to pharaoh.  But that was a long time ago, wasn’t it?

Edwin Goldberg, D.H.L., D.D. is the senior rabbi of Temple Sholom of Chicago.