Paying attention to your health
Each torment has its scream
But health makes not a sound;
My silence makes it seem,
As if I can’t be found.
It is all too easy to take health for granted. The Swedish poet and musician E. G. Geijer wrote these much quoted lines, which still speak to us, in his poem about an unsung hero, the land-owning farmer.1
Research has shown that even though most people will insist that good health is one of the most essential values of their life, in fact many other things are given higher priority. Often, it is only when our health is failing that we pay serious attention to just how important it is to us.
Play around with the idea that health is like the long, light days and gentle twilight of summer. The light that we celebrate, that we absorb adoringly during chilly evenings as we cluster around the barbecue, that we talk about and sing about. Perhaps, at least for people living far from the equator, the wistful obsession with summer can be explained by the certainty that every day is a step towards the darkness of winter.
A difference between the light of summer and our health might well be our personal experience of the unrelenting cycle of the seasons. If you have lived through the depths of darkest winter, you are more than ready to enjoy the light when it returns – precisely because you are so very aware that it will not last for long.
On the other hand, trying to predict the progression of health is not just risky but down-right impossible. We know that the deep darkness of night will arrive, sometimes quietly and insidiously, sometimes abruptly, like a roll of thunder, but we have grown skilled at avoiding that insight. Many times, it is only when you, personally, receive the diagnosis of diabetes, a heart attack or a lung cancer that healthy habits get top priority.
Imagine if health would receive the same unconditional attention as the light of summer: a joyous party, a feeling of quiet gratitude or a serious effort to embrace and protect it and not take it for granted.
What can you do to pay attention to your health?
The lines from the poem Odalbonden (The Farmer) by Erik Gustav Geijer (1811) are translated by Anna Paterson.