From age 16 to age 20, a woman's body is a temple. From 21 to 49, it's an amusement park. From 50 on, it's a terrarium.
I know this because every morning, I now take a capsule with 4.6 billion strains of supposedly beneficial flora to help establish the equilibrium in my digestive tract. There are only 7 billion people on the planet. Every morning, I'm swallowing half my own universe.
And I'm not the only one. Every person I meet who is even in the least bit neurotic about his or her -- it's usually her -- intestinal issues takes some version of a pro-biotic. I didn't know what a probiotic was until a year ago, but now it's emerged, right alongside philosophy, politics and the latest "Mob Wives" mauling, as a central topic of discussion.
I take a pill, and I have no idea what's in it. I've tried to learn; I read the small print. But I don't get the explanation. It doesn't help that the people explaining it are usually the same ones who have attempted to explain how derivatives function in economic terms. My role is to stand in front of them as they deliver earnest and passionate speeches until my eyes glaze over and I start to wobble.
Indeed, I believe some of the same people who once sold derivatives are now selling probiotics, but it just could be that they have similar facial expressions and that, at some point, I'm expected to make use of a checkbook.
Anyway, I take this pill every morning before my first sip of decaf. I'm not allowed to have caffeine anymore because it's no good for me, whereas becoming a host to microorganisms is something to celebrate. For all I know, I'm ingesting the very stuff I scrape off the tiles in my shower stall. Yet I do it because I'm convinced it's suddenly imperative I assist the side of the righteousness in the struggle taking place in my colon where, apparently, ignorant armies clash by night.
The word on Wellness Street is that our mental, physical and spiritual hygiene hinges on the effective landscaping of our tummies. As if there's a little gardener in there, some guy with a weed whacker and a couple of bags of bulbs.
Do we find this odd? Nope. We say "Oh, good! At last I know what's been bugging me all these years!" And then we buy specially formulated yogurt advertised by a well-known actress who looks like a fun, regular person. With the emphasis on regular.
Human beings are always searching for some part of our body to blame. In the 15th century, you could go to a healer who used leeches, holy water and spiders to cure you. If the patient lived, he gave the healer a pound of goat meat; if he died, the healer was burnt to death as a witch. This is why, even today, doctors prefer malpractice insurance to its alternatives.
In our lifetimes, the quick fixes have changed rapidly. Once upon a time it was iron we all lacked; people took Geritol (remember the ad saying "My wife -- I think I'll keep her"?). Then it was water. Suddenly, everybody in America was discovering water like it was a miracle beverage, not like you could get it from a hydrant. Then all of a sudden, it was vitamin D that was going to save us.
Now it's internal shrubbery.
And that's why women are taking capsules filled with forests and have turned into a version of Botanical Gardens, except in heels. Sensible heels, mind you, because everything in life is about balance.
We're crossing the border where human beings and plant life meet. We're hybrids. We're like the pod people in those bad science fiction movies except we're not trying to escape; this time we're running down the street chasing the 6-foot string bean so that we can ask for its help with our colitis. The string bean is attempting to evade our grasp because we're too needy and emotionally dependent on it. Talk about scary.
Maybe we should go back to thinking about our bodies as temples. There could be offerings. I'd like pepperoni and extra cheese on mine.
Originally published in The Hartford Courant.