We should reserve a portion of our nightly prayer to thank God that we were born into this time, this place. We live like kings. No, that’s not right. The original one percenters — the kings and queens, dukes and barons, princes and princesses, and the rest of their ilk — led lives of severe deprivation compared with our lives.
I live in a cozy warm home heated to 72 degrees in the winter. Henry the Eighth lived in the cold and drafty Hampton Court, the most modern and sophisticated palace in Europe at that time. Henry probably spent more time warming his royal bum in front his fireplace than he did chasing his future wives around the place.
I eat blueberries from Chile (for my yogurt and cereal), oranges and avocados from Southern California (for my salads), bananas from Guatemala (for my smoothies), and even a few dates from the Near East.
Henry IV’s feasts might have been large and scrumptious, fit for a king, but he also had no fruits and vegetables out of season, no oranges, bananas, avocados, and kumquats at all. Poor Henry.
I get from place to place in a cozy, quiet Prius, listening to Fats Domino and Leon Redbone along the way. Louis XIV, the Sun King, traveled in a gilded carriage, very prettily carved with cherubim. But his ride from Versailles to the Paris hotspots was also slow, bone-jarring, and cold.
I have perfectly fitting false teeth that can chew everything in sight. Apples fear me. Queen Elizabeth I was missing a number of teeth, so when she made public appearances, she disguised her missing teeth by stuffing bits of white cloth into the gaps.
The usual method of replacing teeth (but only for the rich) was to carve a tooth out of ivory and wire it to any remaining teeth. That left an ugly and shifting set of teeth that often fell out.
When I near my end, I will be administered morphine to alleviate any pain before my lights go out. When Charles II of England lay dying, he was surrounded by a crowd of the best doctors in the land, all of whom inflicted, not balm, but distress and suffering, on the Merry Monarch.
The first thing they did was bleed the poor guy in order to relieve what they believed was an excess of blood, one of the four “humours” in the body (blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile). So Charles was bled until his face was ashen. The doctors did this by raking his skin with a scarifier (a device with multiple blades); they punctured his veins to let out blood; and they applied cupping glasses (heated so that a suction was created) to his skin to draw the blood up through his skin.
In all, the hovering doctors gave poor Charles 58 different drugs of various concoctions, some of which blistered and scalded his tongue. The doctors also blew sneezing powders up his nose to relieve the pressure of “humours” on his brain. And they used a red-hot iron to blister his head, once again to force out the excessive humours.
Charles was encouraged to swallow various emetics to induce vomiting and purgatives to evacuate his intestines.. They fed him pig urine to fight his fever.
After a few days of this torture, Charles died, wracked in pain. His own screams may have been the last sound he heard.
So tonight in your prayers, send up thanks for the good fortune that allowed you to be born in this time.
Oh, while you’re at it, you might also include thanks in your prayer for being born not just in this time, but in this place. You might have been born in Somalia, after all, or Venezuela or Nigeria or Russia or Costa Rica or Baltimore. (Just kidding, Baltimore.)
We live, in Voltaire’s undying phrase, in the “best of all possible worlds.” Since gratitude is said to increase happiness and decrease depression, it’s probably good for our psyches to remind ourselves of that fact every now and then.