Tempting Fate

Some of life's pleasures are worth sacrificing a few years for.


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This past summer it was announced that artificial sweeteners damage DNA, harming the human body. I read this while drinking a diet cola and was alarmed enough to stop drinking for a few minutes before deciding that even if artificial sweeteners kill me, it will be worth it. It leads to an old question: Would you rather have a briefer pleasant life, or a longer unpleasant life? Let me tell you something, kiddo, the better you live, the worse you die. Those old-timers you see in the nursing homes, deep into their 90s, slouched in their wheelchairs watching General Hospital, are the folks who took care of themselves, while the folks who drank gallons of diet cola every day keeled over in their 70s and 80s, fat and happy.

I don’t think I’m saying anything that could get me sued by the makers of diet soda. Everyone knows soda pop, diet or not, is bad for us. They’re like cigarettes, only sweeter and don’t make our clothes stink. When I see a smoker, I think, “What an idiot,” but when I see someone drinking a soda, I wonder if they’ll give me a sip.

On any given day I do three or four things that would kill a lesser man. I sit for hours at a time, forgetting to stand up and walk every half hour or so, which means I likely have sitting disease, the newest, most fashionable ailment one can have. Symptoms include feeling sleepy, drained, and unfocused. I can’t remember not being sleepy, drained, and unfocused, which means I probably had sitting disease before it was even a disease.

I’m not always good at wearing my seat belt, driving a mile or two before the beeper starts beeping, generally as I’m passing the Vornholt’s house, and I finally put it on. I eat lunch twice a week with Jerry Vornholt. We meet at Frank’s Place in Danville most Tuesdays and Fridays. I eat lasagna, which I shouldn’t since I have diabetes. (See above maxim about the better you live, the worse you die.) If diet soda, sitting on my butt, and driving without a seat belt don’t kill me, eating lasagna will. On the other hand, I’ve been drinking diet cola and eating lasagna for decades, which makes me think that even as diet cola is damaging my DNA, the three pounds of lasagna I eat each week is repairing it. All my life I’ve been lucky that way, one bad habit offsetting another.

For close to 20 years, I ended each day with a brisk two-mile walk. Then I read a story about a man who, while out for a leisurely stroll, was stricken with vertigo, stumbled off the sidewalk, and then fell into the street, where he was hit by a truck and squashed. I know a sign from God when I see it, and stopped walking immediately. When you think about it, it’s hard to believe I exercised 20 years with no ill effects. How foolish I was to tempt fate for so long.

When I was a kid the circus came to our town, pitching their tents at the county fairgrounds next to the jail. A lady, the same one who’d sold me cotton candy the day before, gazed into a crystal ball and predicted I would live to a ripe old age, in perfect health right up to the end, before dying suddenly and painlessly. Perhaps this is why I’ve played it fast and loose with my health, knowing no matter what I did, my long life was written in the stars.


Philip Gulley is a Quaker pastor and author of 22 books, including the Harmony and Hope series, featuring Sam Gardner.

This article is featured in the September/October 2023 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

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  1. That diet cola really is pretty bad, isn’t it? If I’m at an event and they only have diet drinks, the lemon-lime isn’t half bad but needs to be cold. If I bring drinks to a potluck or something, I make sure they’re already cold, not relying on the ice to do it. That dilutes it, then you drink more. My own weakness is caffeine-free Coke and the Vanilla, which does have it. Oh well, right? They’re the 2 hardest flavors to get. Sometimes I love either with some Torani vanilla syrup added. I want to try the coconut. The cinnamon smells incredible, but is too strong. You can’t try before you buy…

    No sir on the lasagna. Way too much cholesterol. I drink plenty of water before the in-moderation soft drinks. 2 or 3 cans a week. I hate to think of them as cigarettes. Those DID make my suits smell up until the late ’80s even after coming home from work. I like how you contradicted yourself in paragraph 2. I know I do so myself too, occasionally.

    We have to be extremely careful (health-wise) in these times. It’s not being paranoid when the government really IS out to get us. I love the opening picture. It definitely has elements of both ELO’s Eldorado and Discovery album covers after all.


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