Archives For Health

 

eyechartThe world’s oldest man just died—and I’m not looking forward to ever becoming one of his successors. I mean, I understand the sentiments of non-Christians who quip that any day on this side of the grass is a good one, but I would only be interested in staying around here that long if I still had a keen mind and good health.

I’m not sure most of the people who eventually earn those titles have either. This gentleman was 111, and in the picture of him receiving his Guinness certificate, he actually looks like he had already expired. I mean, no offense, just a statement of simple fact.

As for his state of mind, I’m a bit more optimistic. Apparently when asked a while ago how he had lived so long, he responded, “because I haven’t died yet.” Assuming that was tongue in cheek (I recognize that is merely an assumption), he had retained his sense of humor. A good sign.

I don’t think ultra-long longevity is all it’s cracked up to be. I remember my 92 year old grandmother (my only relative who lived to be “elderly”) telling me that she was ready to go to heaven. She was in a nursing home, but not in pain, and still witty.

She said, “Robbie, I’ll miss you and everyone who is still here, but if you live long enough, more of the people you love are already in heaven than remaining here.” She had been widowed for three decades. And, unbeknownst to us at the time, three of her four children would follow her within three years of her own passing.

I am not eager to die, of course. And, unlike Polycarp, the bishop of second-century Smyrna, I’m certainly not zealous about the possibility of someday being martyred.

Still, God-willing, when I’ve come to the end of my appointed days I will make that transition peacefully, as is appropriate for a child of God who has been blessed with a full life.

When death is seen as a dark end—a soundless void—it’s understandable that many would resist it to the “bitter” end. That theme has been common in literature and cinema.

In a comic light, a character on Parks and Recreation exhibits the desire to live as long as humanly possible. He exercises without pause and takes every vitamin that exists in horse-pill doses. Soon after Chris Traeger was introduced to the show, he shared his view of life:

I take care of my body above all else. Diet, exercise, supplements, positive thinking. Scientists believe that the first human being who will live 150 years has already been born. I believe I am that human being.

Humorous. And, a respectable goal perhaps, if not driven by deep fear.

I don’t share Traeger’s goal of being the first human to reach 150. Nor, as we considered at the outset of our discussion, do I long to gain the title of World’s Oldest Man.

And I take comfort that I find myself, once again, in the comfortable camp of C.S. Lewis. In his essay “Is Progress Possible?” Lewis wrote:

Progress means movement in a desired direction, and we do not all desire the same things for our species. In “Possible Worlds” Professor Haldane pictured a future in which Man, foreseeing that Earth would soon be uninhabitable, adapted himself for migration to Venus by drastically modifying his physiology and abandoning justice, pity and happiness.

The desire here is for mere survival. Now I care far more how humanity lives than how long. Progress, for me, means increasing goodness and happiness of individual lives. For the species, as for each man, mere longevity seems to me a contemptible ideal.

More important, we believe, is the quality than the quantity, of our lives.

Autistic Considerations

August 22, 2013 — 13 Comments

Bill & Barbara ChristopherMost of us have a friend, loved one, or acquaintance affected by autism. I’m not sure if this would have been accurate a generation ago.

And I’m not merely referring to the lack of proper diagnosis of the problem. There are numerous reports that its frequency is increasing.

Autism is not necessarily debilitating. In minor cases it’s barely noticeable. Like many problems, its severity is manifested across a wide spectrum.

I have autism on my mind now, as the new school year approaches and my wife sets up her special education classroom. She’s excited about the return of her precious kids. It’s wonderful how so many of them make amazing process both in academics and social abilities.

The return of school, however, is not the primary reason for my current thoughts. I’m writing an article I hope to submit to an Autism magazine, inspired by a recent interview I conducted.

I was privileged to speak at length with the father of a severely autistic son who will be known to many readers of Mere Inkling. William Christopher, who played Father Mulcahy on M*A*S*H, has been a prominent spokesman for autism concerns for many years. (A link to the article appears below.)

Along with his wife Barbara, Christopher wrote a book entitled Mixed Blessings. It recounted their early struggles providing Ned with everything he needed to make his life as full as it could possibly be. Due to their diligence and deep love for their son, Ned continues to enjoy his active life today.

They embody the noble type of earnest love C.S. Lewis describes in The Four Loves. There he says that true love is gift-love, not seeking increased dependence on itself, but liberating the beloved to become as independent as they possibly can.

The maternal instinct . . . is a Gift-love, but one that needs to give; therefore needs to be needed. But the proper aim of giving is to put the recipient in a state where he no longer needs our gift. We feed children in order that they may soon be able to feed themselves; we teach them in order that they may soon not need our teaching.

Thus a heavy task is laid upon this Gift-love. It must work towards its own abdication. We must aim at making ourselves superfluous. The hour when we can say “They need me no longer” should be our reward. But the instinct, simply in its own nature, has no power to fulfil this law.

The instinct desires the good of its object, but not simply; only the good it can itself give. A much higher love—a love which desires the good of the object as such, from whatever source that good comes—must step in and help or tame the instinct before it can make the abdication.

This despite the counsel of one early specialist who advised them that since Ned was adopted they should just take him and trade him in for a child who wasn’t defective. Yes, someone really said that to them.

If I end up publishing the article, I’ll mention it again for those who might be interested in reading it. In the meantime, the extensive interview appears in the current issue of a journal I edit for military chaplains, called Curtana: Sword of Mercy.

When we look at a list of autistic traits, it’s normal to recognize some of them in ourselves. That shouldn’t surprise us, since most of these traits are completely “normal” in various degrees.

It is a commonplace practice to perform posthumous diagnoses of well known figures, based upon detailed descriptions of their behaviors. In that vein, I found online lists that included the following personages as possibly autistic: Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, James Joyce, Stanley Kubrick, Lewis Carroll, and Hans Christian Andersen.

Oh, and there’s another name I discovered in one article. The writer suggested that C.S. Lewis’ social preferences suggest that he too suffered the mild version of autism, typically called “Asperger’s Syndrome.”

I don’t intend to discuss that now, but I wanted to share a fascinating concept I encountered while researching for this column. In Autism, Art and Children: The Stories We Draw, I read the following about imaginary worlds like Narnia and Middle Earth:

It is this element of world building that forms a bridge between the impersonal character of research and clinical observations and the individual young artists with autism in whom our interest especially lies.

Sacks (1995) points out the importance of fantasy worlds to some individuals with autism . . . this predilection for alternate worlds is frequently encountered in many high-functioning people with autism . . . such high-functioning individuals with autism “describe a great fondness for, almost an addiction to, alternative worlds, imaginary worlds such as those of C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, or worlds they imagine themselves.”

Illustrating such world-building activities by an entire family (two parents and their son), all of whom have autism, Sacks remarks, “They have spent years constructing an imaginary world with its own landscapes and geography (endlessly mapped and drawn), its own languages, currency, laws, and customs—a world in which fantasy and rigidity play equal parts.”

This creative activity is of particular interest, for many of the children we have met have individual fantasies in alternative worlds that play major roles in their lives and activities.

I find this analysis captivating. I am utterly fascinated by the construction of imaginary settings. That’s one reason I love the alternate history genre, as it combines the familiar with elements that have transformed them into something inherently different.

I must confess I’ve occupied many an idle hour imaging new worlds. I’ve even invested a fair amount of time in world-building myself—for an alternative history for which I still compile notes and ideas, despite the fact it’s unlikely to ever be written. I don’t attribute this to autism, but it serves as another example of just how much all of us have in common.

The fact is none of us is perfectly healthy—physically, emotionally, psychologically, or spiritually. We are who we are. We can strive to improve many aspects of our lives (and the wellbeing of others), but attaining perfection is impossible in this life.

In the meantime, we can be grateful for wonderful people like Barbara and Bill Christopher, who have courageously shared their own journey to aid us in ours. Their willingness to forsake their rightful shield of privacy and step out into the glare of the public—for our benefit—reveals both their love for their children and their generosity towards strangers.

_____

The wonderful photograph at the top of the column features Bill and Barbara Christopher. Barbara had a guest role as a nurse in “Dear Mildred,” during which the two of them sang a duet.

The interview with Bill Christopher can be downloaded for free in the current issue of Curtana: Sword of Mercy, which is available here.

Human Filth

June 6, 2013 — 14 Comments

washI’m writing this from lovely Saint Louis. It’s a “far piece” from my home in Puget Sound, but I love it here. My wife and I spent two years just across the Mississippi, at Scott Air Force Base.

I’m here to begin study for my Doctor of Ministry degree, and it’s off to a grand beginning. As I said, I like Saint Louis, and Concordia Seminary has a first class faculty.

The only problem about coming here was precisely that . . . the process of getting here.

I hate flying these days. This trip was particularly trying. I wasn’t troubled by the fact that both my first flight and my connection were more than an hour behind their scheduled departures. (Although they were.) Nor was I troubled by being selected (once again) for a full body scan. (Must be due to using my military ID rather than a driver’s license that could more easily be counterfeited.)

Nor was it because the airline misplaced my luggage and was reluctant to give me an overnight toiletry kit until I insisted that although a hotel would offer me a toothbrush, what I really wanted to ensure I had the first day of class was deodorant. (They got the last laugh by giving me a bar of Lady Speed Stick; let me assure you that the elegant Powder Fresh scent turned more than one head that day in class.)

No, what really disturbed me as I traveled was encountering filthy people in the restrooms I used as I traveled across the continent. By filthy, I mean those disgusting people who choose not to wash their hands. When I observe 50% of the men exiting the bathroom without pausing to use one of the many available sinks, it’s all I can do not to say something. It makes me want to call up their aged parents and ask how they managed to raise such a disgusting son.

I love animals, and just this week I’ve seen dogs, cats, rabbits and deer grooming themselves. They have better manners and hygiene than the pigs I’m talking about here. Yes, they are disgusting enough for me to refer to them as swine . . .  although pigs are only being true to their nature, when homo sapiens are supposed to possess a higher character.

C.S. Lewis was writing about the shortcomings of only doing what is right because it is mandated, but it has a slight bearing on the disgust I’ve described above.

We do not wish either to be, or to live among, people who are clean or honest or kind as a matter of duty: we want to be, and to associate with, people who like being clean and honest and kind. The mere suspicion that what seemed an act of spontaneous friendliness or generosity was really done as a duty subtly poisons it. (English Literature in the Sixteenth Century).

While Lewis is certainly correct that insincerity strips kindness and honesty of their virtuous essence—when it comes to cleanliness, I’m willing to settle for the “forced” variety!

Well, enough about human filth. I just needed to get that out of my system. Parents, please teach your children better than this. And ladies, please don’t dispel my naïve notion that 100% of women clean up after using their facilities.

Please forgive me for this disgusting post, and I promise that my next column will be much more pleasant and edifying.

Humor & Health

November 16, 2012 — 9 Comments

I had to have blood drawn today for an upcoming physical exam. It’s not one of my favorite things to do, but I consciously try not to allow my feelings to negatively affect the caregivers who provide these essential procedures for our wellbeing. (Trust me, dentists especially are sorely in need of our appreciation.) I often try to add a little smile to their day employing a touch of light humor.

Today, for example, I was repeating a blood test I had already accomplished earlier this week. When the corpsman (Naval hospital) asked which arm I said, “you better take it out of my left arm . . . they weren’t happy with the numbers in the sample they got from my right.”

Now, a modest joke like that won’t make it into any comedians’ monologues, but it did inspire a chuckle from the four of us in the lab at that moment.

It reminded me of getting my flu shot last year and having my choice of four different corpsmen to administer it. Each had a waiting line. I could only imagine what it was like to be puncturing one anonymous arm after another for eight hours. Most “victims” silent, but many grimacing and some feeling compelled to describe to you just how much they hate shots.

Three of the corpsmen were normal sized human beings. But the fourth was a behemoth. The seams of his uniform were near to bursting due to his extraordinary musculature. I doubt he was on steroids, but his massive figure could have fit into the offensive line of any team in the NFL. And, for some mysterious reason, his waiting line was the shortest.

When I approached him to receive my vaccination, I ventured (in a voice loud enough for his companions to hear): “I chose you because you look like you’re gentle.” Everyone got a laugh out of that, and I felt pleased at having momentarily brightened their day.

My kids are always wary when I make comments like this. They recognize that every time we open our mouths, it’s a gamble. We can achieve our goal, and elicit someone’s precious smile . . . or we can make a fool of ourselves.

As a grandfather, I have the added “protection” of not having too much expected of me, in the wittiness department. By the grace of God, I’m still in possession of the bulk of my mental capacities. I imagine that, should I live long enough, most of my attempts at humor may grow rather lame. But, if there remains any cultural respect for our elders, even these attempts will be recognized for what they are—goodwill. And, as such, there are those from whom they will still elicit a smile.

We should not be afraid of humor, especially in its most humble and intimate forms. Woven amidst the threads of our daily conversations, it enriches life.

C.S. Lewis recognized this quite well. In The Magician’s Nephew, which recounts the creation of Narnia, Aslan says to the newly anointed animals: “Laugh and fear not, creatures. Now that you are no longer dumb and witless, you need not always be grave. For jokes as well as justice come in with speech.”

Lewis notes something in Reflections on the Psalms that I too have found to be true. “A little comic relief in a discussion does no harm, however serious the topic may be. (In my own experience the funniest things have occurred in the gravest and most sincere conversations.)”

Because of this, it’s not uncommon when we sit with those who have lost a loved one, to find that the conversation often drifts towards those happy and humorous moments that were shared with the departed. I’ve heard much healing laughter in the still sorrowing presence of the grieving. And, whether the words or thoughts evoke bold laughter or simple smiles, I tend to consider them a good thing indeed.