I don’t want to make you feel bad if you’re one of them, but I get frustrated when folks say, “At least we’ve got our health,” or worse, “If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything.” AAAHHHHH!!!!
First let me say I understand this impulse – I appreciate being healthy, and work hard to stay that way (sometimes). But none of us really ‘has our health.’ Health is not a possession that you can go and acquire like a new suit or a place in the country. You may spend hours in time, energy, money to ‘be healthy’ – watching what you eat, visiting the gym (and actually exercising, not just saying, “hi”_ going to doctors and trainers, avoiding tobacco, alcohol and anything else that might disrupt your body’s natural rhythms (even coffee?!). And you still get cancer or drop dead from a heart attack. Or you don’t drop dead but perhaps worse you have a debilitating stroke that leaves you physically and mentally impaired for decades, suddenly relying on others for the most basic of daily functions.
So, what does it mean to “have health”? And what have you said about your neighbor who doesn’t? Is she ‘less’ – less human, less valuable, less able to have meaning and purpose in life?
In western culture – if I may generalize – one’s value is often determined by the ability to produce a marketable product or service that is useful to society. When we first meet someone, we ask, “What do you do?” as a way to classify or understand them.
What if instead we were to ask, “What do you believe,” “What do you value,” What do you love,” Who is important to you,” “How do you make difficult decisions”? If I were asked those questions by a new acquaintance, I might feel threatened – like they were wanting to challenge me on those things – that only speaks to how twisted our society is and how afraid we are to be in relationship with people. Relationships are dangerous – they are where we get most hurt – But relationships are also the source of greatest joy in life.
Read a book like Mitch Album’s Tuesdays with Morrie and you realize the great grace that can be found in loosing one’s health – the simple ecstatic pleasures – talk, touch, companionship – again, things which come in relationship.
One reason we hate illness is that it compromises our freedom & independence. Many of us (I) don’t like to ask for help. I will do a task poorly and incorrectly rather than say, “I’m not sure how – I need a hand.” What is it at work in us that so needs such independence, such freedom? Even in my most intimate relationships with family and dear friends, I’m slow to say “I need help, I need you.”
Sickness gives us that gift, if we’re open. When I am really ill, I am forced to rely on the help and support of others. I see men and women resist it, though I think for different reasons. Women resist because they are accustomed to being the care takers, doing for others. Receiving another’s care seems to violate that foundational principle that helps create a definition of self. This is a connectional relationship, but one based upon her ability to care for others. For men, the reason goes away from connection toward independence. “I have been told to make my own way in the world, and that means I shouldn’t rely upon anyone.” Now, that said, it is often the case (for me and others) that when men finally to accept help, particularly from a wife, we regress into some kind of son/mother relationship and become, as our wives might say, “big babies.”
How often I go to the doctor with dread rather than gratitude. My attitude toward my healthcare professionals could be, “Thank you. Thank you for investing in your education, studying and working hard so that I can be healthy, and so when I need you, you are there for me. And further, “How can I be here for you?” How can I make my relationships with such people (all people?) more reciprocal? How many of my relationships are one-sided, or at least lopsided – money in exchange for service – a simple economic transaction and nothing more. “You do this for me, and I (or my insurance company) will pay you $XX.xx.
I even approach ministry that way – fee for service. I do because I’m paid, and if someone outside the circle wants something from me, I want to be paid for that too. I think about being paid for weddings, funerals, counseling, etc. Instead, I might view all of these as gifts I am able to offer others because I’m already well paid.