Being Healthy

Last night my beautiful wife treated me to a ticket to hear Douglas Coupland read. Coupland is this year’s Massey Lectures presenter. Resolutely being himself he turned the typical 5 part lecture into a story, a book really, that is presented in 5 hours that, ala 24, happens in real time. (Depending on how fast you read…Coupland noted last night.) The evening was entertaining on many levels, frustrating on a few others and packed full of insights. Coupland was himself, or at least thoroughly the public self he’s previously been willing to reveal in interviews and writing. He’s clearly a contemplator, understatement, who seemingly spends even more time thinking about things both weird and wonderful than I do.

The book and topic for the evening was, “Player One: What is to Become of Us”. I don’t have my own copy yet. One of my major victories last night was not buying a copy there and getting it signed by Coupland. I’ve been making changes lately in an effort to be healthier and forgoing my “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission” policy is part of the change. Normally I would have bought the book, gotten it autographed and then told the elusive Donna how much less she has to spend on groceries, gas, etc. It’s amazing how much better a little applied self-discipline can make a relationship. But now that I’ve heard the 3rd hour/chapter I will have to get the book eventually. The story involves a quartet of strangers, some stranger than others, who are holed up in an airport hotel lounge while the rest of the world apparently goes wonky. $900 a barrel oil prices, toxic clouds, a sniper, white mice and a blind date are also involved in ways that the 3rd hour/chapter did not fully reveal.

After the reading, Coupland had a conversation with Paul Kennedy, a CBC radio personality who hosts Ideas. I’ve listened to Ideas often and in my head had developed a mental picture of Paul Kennedy based on his voice. Clearly I am not gifted in this area. He looked way more like my Uncle John than he did the faux image that’s now been crumpled up and tossed in the recycle bin in my brain. Don’t get me wrong, looking like my Uncle John isn’t a bad thing just not what I was expecting. During the conversation there was a brilliant line that I should have written down. Of course I didn’t. But Coupland, talking about his choice to do his lecture as story, pointed out that story has the ability to convey a whole lot of things in a short amount of time. And that made me think of Jesus and the Kingdom stories and it made me think of the talking/teaching/preaching stuff I do for my full-time gig.

Then it was Q&A time. This turned out to be a bust as they – whatever powers that be but NOT Coupland himself – cut it off after a couple questions. Bed time and all that I suppose. But both questions got replies from Coupland more interesting than the questions themselves. The first question was about the characters in the story we’d just heard. The young man with the British accent asked if Coupland thought that everyone was flawed or missing something like the characters in the story or wasn’t it possible for a person to be whole, well-rounded, complete? Coupland, after getting the question clarified due to a poor sound set up, smiled and said, basically, that we’re all messed up, we’ve all got problems and went on to expand on the idea in the context of society and culture and story.

It reminded me of a friend of mine who challenged me a while ago about something I said about all of us being dysfunctional. “Surely,” he said, “some of us are functional. Don’t you think some of us are?” And I imagine that, like the young man last night with his British accent, he was hoping or expecting that I’d agree and say something like, “well, certainly you are and maybe a few others…” But as Coupland pointed out last night, age and time create a perspective for us that youth obscures. The longer you live the more you realize we’re all, at the very least, slightly wonky. I’ve been a lot of places, met a lot of people and thanks to the internet and mass media I’ve observed even more. I’ve met religious people, spiritual people, intellectual people, simple people, complicated people, poor people and rich people, free people and oppressed people, gay people, straight people, young people and old people and the simple truth, the consistent truth is that we’re all flawed and we’re all missing bits. This is part of being human. But the older you get, again as Coupland pointed out, you can learn to enjoy this reality rather than pretend or fix or cover. With age comes a willingness to embrace these flaws and dysfunctions or perhaps more accurately, to embrace each other despite these flaws and dysfunctions.

But what about the really big things, like say, you discover that your flat mate is into cannibalism? Clearly there are some “flaws” that have to be addressed, or, as in this case, you’ll never get any sleep. But in general it means being committed to relationship – not because love is blind – but because love, real love, sees and stays despite. Being healthier means making a choice and giving each other freedom to make our own choices without fear of immediate disconnection from our friends. I was listening to someone a while back, completely under the influence, giving a room full of AAers tips on how to stay sober. Some time ago I had a friend, friend A, telling me how unhealthy it was that another friend, um friend B, was giving so much time to someone (friend c?) who clearly needed professional help (ie. people paid to care and medicate). Some time before that I was getting almost weekly calls from friend A who was “about to lose it” and take off for another part of the world, bags packed, and I was trying to talk them down from the ledge. It’s easy, for a moment, to forget about where we’ve been and even, perhaps ignore where we are.

Sadly, we despise the weak. Not the really, really weak. We like those. We raise money for them, send them to Disneyland for one last hurrah, hold a benefit, we make them a celebrity of sorts. The weak we despise tend to be the ones we actually have to deal with on a daily basis. I have, apparently, a genetic pre-disposition to high blood pressure. It’s in my DNA. One of my many flaws. The sudden explosion of that pressure one night in June triggered anxiety attacks and a general anxiety disorder. Another flaw. I sometimes pick my nose. Sometimes I overtalk when I’m excited about something and verbally cut people off with my own observations. Sometimes I’m so socially awkward that I’ll forget to say things like “hello” or “how are you” or “excuse me”. I bite my nails. Flawed, flawed, flawed. But loved. And ever so slowly being made healthier by the love of those who know my stuff and still let me hang out with them.

After last night I’m pretty sure I’d enjoy hanging out with Doug Coupland.


About brianmpei

Stumbling towards what comes next.
This entry was posted in Books, Confession, denial, douglas coupland, Friends, health, Life, love, perception, Reflective, Relationship, story, truth. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Being Healthy

  1. Cheryl says:

    Great post, Brian! I loved the line “Sadly, we despise the weak. Not the really, really weak. We like those.” Very insightful and true. Listing my own character flaws is a great way for me to take a hold on myself when I’m becoming impatient with the flaws of others.

    Even reading this post, reading about the q & a portion of the night, I thought “gah!” because I was annoyed, not only with the cut time, but also with the questions themselves. I don’t necessarily agree that youth obscures perspective as much as experience does. My first reaction to the first question was irritation because (one of my many character flaws) is judgment and impatience and I immediately thought ‘come on! Everbody knows that everybody is messed up! You’d have to be a complete jerk to think there is anybody out there who isn’t somehow dysfunctional!!!’ (I know. have a problem).

    I was wrong! And I am often wrong. Even reading this post, I am reminded of my lack of grace last night when thinking of this guy, who really just wanted an answer to a question.

    Okay, I’m going to wrap up my blog response to your blog. :-/
    Great post – really got me thinking!

  2. Michelle says:

    I would have like to hang out at the lecture last night. I declined so I could study and ended up NOT studying. Oh well.

    I’m coming to understand that I have a belief that isn’t serving me in my Christian life or my AA life. It’s a belief that I can talk myself out for hours/days at a time but if I don’t continue to address it, it creeps back in. It is this: I don’t believe there are no completely healthy/perfect people here on Earth. Surely there are some enlightened souls among the billions? Isn’t it just a nice way to pacify our anxiety about our shortcomings to say we’re ALL messed up. Isn’t that rather presumptuous? Are there no bodhisattvas here just to help others along the path? (I do admit I’m not a very “sound” Christian if you want to investigate my theology.)

    The reason this belief doesn’t serve me is because 1) it fudges up basic Christian theology and 2) it makes me think I could/should be one of those enlightened souls.

    But then I think about those seemingly wise, gentle, perfect people and wonder what combination of events would make them lose that composure.

    • brianmpei says:

      I would love to meet any one like that Michelle! So far my experience in person and in reading history hasn’t yielded any candidates. Let me know if you find one! 🙂

      • Michelle says:

        Maybe I’m an idealist, but I love the image of pious monks or sweet nuns (or whoever) completely surrendered to the will of God and helping others, helping to manifest His kingdom here. I want to hang onto the hope that they are real. Real, good, true, happy, healthy people.

    • brianmpei says:

      “Real, good, true, happy, healthy people.” Those I’ve met. If we leave “perfect” off the list and healthy is someone who is getting healthier I think I even know several. They’ve all got flaws though!

      • Michelle says:

        Right. Ok, this helps. This whole conversation helps actually. I might seem really simple-minded but I have to hear these things a hundred different ways and each time I believe it a little more. Eventually it will become truth to me. Deep, down in my bones kind of truth.

        Little mind, meet big truth!

  3. Judy says:

    As one person I admire a lot is fond of saying, “We all come from the Land of Misfit Toys.” Admitting there’s a problem, that there is nobody perfect, is the first sign of health because then there’s teachability. The moment a person starts to think that he/she can attain perfection or even pretty close to it, the temptation is there (and I don’t know anyone who could resist) to become arrogant even if it’s in a “holy” way. Humility and perfection has (to my knowledge) only co-existed twice: (1) in the Garden before the Fall and (2) in the person of Jesus.

    The ones who appear so together may actually be the ones that are the worst off. Often when someone “goes postal” somewhere or some such thing, the first thing you usually hear is “I never knew he had it in him; he was such a nice guy.” (That’s the danger of living behind a mask; people don’t get to know you because you never let anyone in.) Or perhaps God lets some of these seemingly perfect folks coast through life with fewer and less severe bumps in the road, because He knows that if they were to be faced with something huge, they’d be so messed up that their faith would be destroyed and they wouldn’t be able to get out of that dark and scary place of despair. These are the folks who seem to have all the platitudes when someone else is going through a tough time: chronic illness, bankruptcy, addiction. For them, their whole belief structure revolves around a formula: A plus B equals C. (If I do this and this and this, God’s obliged to give me this; that’s my reward.) What would it take for someone to come out from behind that holy façade and behave according to irrational, self-destructive human nature? We might be surprised.

  4. Don Rousu says:

    Count me among those who love you with your flaws.

    As one flawed person to another,

  5. Lorena Dunn says:

    I would love to meet any one like that Michelle! So far my experience in person and in reading history hasn’t yielded any candidates. Let me know if you find one! 🙂

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