Good Health May Be Bad for You

God may love you, but Nature, not so much. This I picked up at Maggie’s Farm, the blog of some quaint New England Yankees, which I visit for encouragement from time to time. It is written in defiance of “nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots.” Which is to say, the faction currently in power.

Let me continue lifting my hat to them, before proceeding any farther.

I am, notoriously, Canadian, but from Nova Scotia on my mama’s side. Nova Scotians considered themselves Yankees (though also loyal subjects of the Crown) until only a couple of generations ago. They recognized some affiliation with auld acquaintance in “the Boston states.”

Perhaps it is from this that the term “Loyalist Yankee” thrills me. We will leave the Loyalist aside, and focus on the Yankee for a moment.

Through Robert Frost and many predecessors, poetic and other, I recognize strengths and weaknesses in the species. Currently I am focusing on strengths.

There is a certain rough-hewn spirit of independence that goes deeper than any politics, and is expressed with a laconic drollness that cannot be defeated by the world. You could not enslave these people. They would not cooperate.

We should rekindle this. Looking ahead, we’ll be needing it in the Catholic Church. We already need people who can look the Zeitgeist in the eye, and tell it to take a vacation.

Now, the report in question was of a talk by some “MD/Philosophy Prof.” I love the way he is not named, and no link is given. That’s the Yankee spirit, right there.

The gentleman says that disease is normal and natural. It is the absence of disease that has made our lives a little unnatural, in recent history. Normally, say two centuries ago, half of the people reading this would be dead already. Most would have died young: there has been no increase in “life expectancy” except in some statistical sense. Some people have always made it to advanced old age. And some people always haven’t.

We look at nature, and see all these healthy animals. That is a reason to think it is natural to be healthy ourselves. But it is a bad reason. In nature, the moment something goes wrong for an animal, it gets eaten. (Never trust statistics.)

The article concludes with an observation on “mental health.” The writer notes that it “cannot even be defined.”

Confess, gentle reader, confess! . . .Don’t you feel uplifted already?

This would not be the first time I have entertained the proposition that perfect health might not be good for us. It is an idea that occurs to me repeatedly, while walking the footpaths along the Lake, or through the beautiful ravines of Toronto.

“The Three Stages of Life, with Death” by Hans Baldung Grien, 1510 (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna)
“The Three Stages of Life, with Death” by Hans Baldung Grien, 1510 (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna)

A jogger flies past in his spandex gear, with the little buds in his ears, like a high-tech robot, shattering my peace. My first instinct is to defend myself against him. But then I remember there are laws against that.

Then again, hospitals are no fun either. The sick are congregated all in one place. We have these “health professionals” who go about today dressed in their pajamas. They are so judgmental. Many of their customers, I suspect, are taken in against their will. “Look, I’m sick, leave me alone,” I can almost hear them thinking.

I remember the comment of an old friend, now dead (but not before seventy). Visiting, I asked how he got in the hospital. We both knew he was totally opposed to such places.

“I was just lying there, harmlessly in the street, and these goons came along and put me on a stretcher.”

From Connecticut, originally, I’ll have you know. A fine Connecticut Yankee, at the Court of King Hygiene.

The idea that one *ought* to be healthy, whether or not one happens to be, is a terrible disturbance to normal thinking. It might even be one of those things our Holy Father calls an “ideology.”

What I’m preaching today is not an ideology. Trust me on that. Nor is bad health a religion, the way good health is. My view is instead: take it as it comes, and show some independence. The purpose of life cannot be to produce an attractive corpse.

Now that we have passed Septuagesima, and are into Shrovetide heading straight for Lent, another point could be inserted. It is well to assign penance to oneself; to sacrifice a few luxuries in preparation for a glorious Easter. Keep it to yourself, don’t be vain about it.

Yet it is even better to belong to that elite to whom God assigns the penances. This would include all the aged, pretty much; all the ill; all those suffering from “disabilities” and “conditions.” We may all have the right to life, but also the duty of a good death, and with that the right not to be crowded when one is trying to have one. Or hurried along, because there’s a queue for the nursing home bed.

I myself enjoy mobility, as I implied from my walks, above, yet a time comes when one should settle down. Mobility could be an idol. In addition to joggers, in Toronto today, one risks collision with the bicyclists on sidewalks. But worse are these oldies in their powered wheelchairs.

From the loss of the cultural ability to sit still, we have this new generation of geriatric delinquents. You can’t reason with them. While to some degree I can empathize with their desire to run young people down, they should learn some courtesy.

If you have to rock, get a rocking chair. That’s what my Grandma Annie did, and she was a spry old thing to the end. Just not especially mobile.

Make a good old Yankee stand. To hell with this cult of exercise and diet, and the guilt that comes with: all this spilt religion. That you’re here at all is by God’s grace, and if you’re good He’ll put you in a better place. Pray for it!

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist in Canadian newspapers. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: