I was visiting family in Los Angeles last week and had the chance to stay with my mother and stepfather. Normally when I visit, I don’t stay with them because they are busy as all get-out but I had not seen them in six months and hoped to get some quality time.
I have been focusing on the question “What is Health?” for the past couple of weeks, explaining that I believe health is defined by a broad set of variables, not just a blood panel. Health, to me, is about having the energy to live into who we can be.
During my few days with my parents, I thought about this more deeply. My mother recently went through an intrusive melanoma surgery and my stepfather has Parkinson’s Disease. So then, what is health?
I have mentioned that my father died of Alzheimer’s Disease. I am not sure that I mentioned that he died at 69 years old, which is young to die of Alzheimer’s. It was his illness that played a grand part in the direction of my life and career. It was his illness that made me love this quote by Hunter S. Thompson: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming 'Wow! What a Ride!'”
I feel like my Dad lost some of that ride. It was a life well-lived but too short.
My mother and step-father are in their 80’s and regardless of their conditions (when they have conditions!), they still wake early, move as much as possible, read, eat well, socialize, go to the Hollywood Bowl and Disney Hall, meet friends for dinner, laugh heartily and have deep discussions about the complexities of life. They represent to me what health means.
As I sat in my stepfather’s study, I became entranced by the books filling the bookshelves on every wall. Books and books and books. While he was talking to me, I lost focus thinking about how I wouldn’t mind being holed up in that room for a year. Books on philosophy, theology, history, art, music, fiction, economics, leadership, and so many more. And the many awards on his bureau for his work and his giving made me feel slightly inadequate. I’ve got work to do! He is also a writer who can no longer type due to Parkinson’s and has a dictation program that helps, though it often jumbles some of his words. I helped him unjumble them one day while he guffawed next to me at the crazy words the dictation program thought he said. It was sort of like Mad Libs and I got a kick out of the fact that he could laugh through the frustration. It reminded me of the Viktor Frankl quote: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Evidence of my mother could be found throughout the house. There was something beautiful everywhere I looked. She said to me, “Life can be a struggle. Try to always have beautiful things around you to remind you how beautiful it is too.” She is a weaver and her pieces are in the rooms of the house: pillows, throws, a jacket that could be mistaken for Chanel. This woman’s work. And oh, the adventures she has had. How I love her.
Are they healthy? Hell yes they are. This is the point! Lifelong health affords us the chance to live, I mean really live as far as we can. What adventurous and beautiful lives my parents have led and continue to lead. Hunter Thompson would nod in agreement, I’m certain of it.
Nutrition. Cortisol regulation. Sleep. Rest. Exercise. Gut health. Hormones. Social life. Play. Travel. Hobbies. Intellectual stimulation. Spirituality. Emotional health. Books and beautiful things.
Go, Do, Be Y’all.