In my early twenties, I worked out frequently at a prestigious health club in Portland, Oregon. Working at the club was a man who had been an exercise instructor there for 60 years! In his eighties at that time, Joe was full of vigor, enthusiasm, and a zest for fitness. Like his friend and contemporary Jack Lalanne, Joe was considered a health and exercise guru and somewhat of a pioneer in the fitness movement.
Still fit, lean, and energetic, Joe would always make it a point to check in on me during my workout and provide a health tip or two. He lived by what he called the four D's: desire, determination, dedication and discipline. But of all the interactions and memories I had with Joe, the thing that has stuck with me is a sign that hung in his office. It read simply, “health is your most valuable possession.”
It’s hard to argue the point. Yet in many ways, it seems our collective focus is on anything but health – For weeks on end we debate football players kneeling during the national anthem. We spend months expressing shock and anger over the sexual inappropriateness of Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, and Kevin Spacey. We focus on whether we should allow certain people in certain bathrooms or whether the ‘news’ is ‘fake’ or not. When we do actually have legitimate societal and environmental health news stories such as hurricanes and mass shootings, they capture our attention only for a brief moment in time. We come together in unified thought for a day or two until the more important ‘news’ of celebrity gossip, dysfunctional politics, and reality competition shows come back to the front burner.
Instead of focusing on our own health, the health of our environment, and the wellness of our populace, we focus instead on the health of our money, our economy, and mostly our own egos. We are driven by distraction. Honestly, with things as screwed up and backwards as they appear to be, our insatiable appetite for escapism is understandable.
Sure enough, distraction seems to be a top priority for all of us these days. That is, until life hits you across the face and the compromised health of your body, your family, or even your environment becomes bigger than the needs of your ego. If you’ve ever been faced with the prospect of significant loss, you’ll know what I‘m talking about - a health crisis is enough to scare any of us straight.
This past year my wife was faced with some alarming physical symptoms. For months, she went through extensive medical testing, living with the constant fear of the unknown and the severe discomfort of her illness. Fortunately, she received excellent care and her team of physicians were able to determine that her issues were environmental, epigenetic, and ultimately treatable. After changing her environment, hear health issues subsided.
I’m happy to report that she is much better and continuing to improve in gaining back her strength and vitality. Perhaps more importantly, the episode changed both of us immensely and also refocused our priorities. After years of living comfortably and enjoying the fruits of our labor by traveling frequently, socializing, and playing hard on the weekends, we reprioritized our focus to God, each other, and actualizing the authentic lifestyle we wanted.
Both my wife and I have dedicated our professional lives to health and wellness. We exercise, eat right, and Patience has even convinced me in recent years that I should floss my teeth regularly! But it still took the proverbial wake up call for us to realize that Joe was right - health is indeed your most valuable possession.
The perspective gained when health is jeopardized is the great equalizer that brings your priorities immediately front and center. You can have all the money in the world, but frequently money can’t solve the problem of health. As a case in point, look no further than the wellness of our country - as a nation, we do have all the money in the world, and frankly, we do a piss poor job where it comes to the care and well-being of our populace. Consider the following:
· Health related issues and subsequent medical debt is the number one cause of personal bankruptcy in our country.
· For many of our citizens, the rights to healthcare access and quality of care is appalling.
· By almost any measure, the collective mental health of our populace is getting worse and increasingly dependent on drugs.
· According to the governments of every nation on earth (except ours) the health of our ecology and environment is failing miserably at least in part by factors related to human consumption.
· The health of our relationships, communities, and civic organizations are in peril. Loneliness and depression are at epidemic proportions, churches and community organizations are at low points in their membership bases, and philosophically and politically, we are in a sheer state of gridlock.
By any standard, societal wellness is in a state of crisis. In the face of such a fact, every effort and focus must be put on communal health. It is only in looking beyond ourselves that we will find true health and wholeness and the manifestation of our true most valuable possession. The origin of the word health comes from the Old English word haelen which means “to heal.” Indeed, we are in desperate need of healing. To be made whole, well, and sound we must realize that human kind and our planet shares the same innate qualities – we are all one.
Whatever you are doing, watching, reading or working on – if it’s not in some way related to health (yours, someone else’s, of our society, or of our planet) put it with your other possessions where it belongs – on the back burner.
As mentioned, my fitness mentor Joe used to talk about the four D’s relating to health. While I am no Joe, I would like to suggest that there are also four F’s where it comes to fixing our ailing society. Faith, forgiveness, fortitude, and fairness.
We must find a way to look after the needs of others in addition to our own. We must stop pointing fingers,find the resilience to fix a broken and lopsided system, and start finding creative solutions. More than anything, in a crisis of health, the glue that brings us all together is faith - faith in humanity, faith in goodness, and faith in God.