Stay Well and Help Others

The Future of Festivals talk by the author at the 2019 International Festivals and Events Association Annual Conference

Keep safe. Stay safe. Be well. These are all too familiar phrases that we hear and see in print every day of our Corona Virus Covid 19 lives. Whilst I am grateful for the sentiment being expressed, I am in still search of something more enduring for the remainder of the pandemic and for the post pandemic world that will hpefully come sooner rather than later.

Therefore, when I was recently interviewed for an article about the state of live events following the pandemic and asked how I personally was coping during this challenging time, I replied to the interviewer that as human beings we really have two main jobs right now. These are, in my mind, simply and fundemtally to keep well and to help others.

Wellness is a dynamic spectrum that varies with each individual. Some folk are very unwell and others are very fit and most of us are somewhere in between. Therefore, I believe that whatever our state of wellness is at the moment, we must do our best to stay well so that we do not have a set back (decline even faster) in the future.

A couple of years ago I had a major fall. My wife and I were walking to the synagogue and I was not watching the pavement and tripped over a cobblestone. I was immediately hurled aloft vertically and then horizontally flying in mid air (this is called a Superman fall) for a couple of metres until I landed with a loud bang in a prone position. My trousers were bady ripped, my knee was bludgeoned and I was dazed. As I slowly struggled to my feet I thought, “I guess I should go to the synagogue more often. The almighty is trying to tell me something.”

The next day I purchased a colourful walking stick. My stick also has a special compartment for a small flask of single malt whisky. The stick and the flask give me great comfort and I have not fallen in the past two years despite experiencing a few trips and slips.

With the stick, I found one small solution to staying well. When others inquire about my health and fret about my physical fragility, I tell them about the dramatic fall and how I made a decision not to fall again. I further explain that in my experience a fall after a certain age is sometimes the beginning of a negative downwards spiral of health problems and I have decided not to move in that direction. I then invite them to share a toast from my flask to our good health!

Each morning I take a daily two or three mile walk, depending on the weather and how I am feeling. These walks are slow and filled with beautiful sights. At the end of the walk I am slightly tired and my heart is filled with happiness from all the beautiful sights I have seen. I then lay down for a few minutes to recall mindfully the beauty I have experience and to rest my body.

One nice opportunity that has been afforded by the pandemic is that as my schedule is now lighter, every afternoon I take a short nap. I do this because I once read that the great philospher, human rights campaigner and former leader of India Mahatma Ghandi once theorised that “the more you sleep, the longer you live.” I find the best part of my nap is slowly waking from the sound sleep and enjoying the fact that I am now more rested. Slowly I rise up and enjoy a cup of tea and one of my favourite biscuits (an Oreo) because I feel as though a successful nap is a cause for daily celebration.

I further believe that a rested mind and a wee daily celebration promotes better mental health. Mental health, in my opinion and experience, is equal to and in some individuals even superior in importance to physical well being.

It is also important to practice what my father taught me, “do not go looking for trouble, it will find you soon enough.” During the day, I limit myself to a maximum of ten minutes of thinking, speaking or reading about the troubles of the world, including the pandemic. I do not focus upon the news of the day until evening and then only after first enjoying my evening dram of single malt whisky or a glass of wine to help me relax. I firmly believe that the bad news that surrounds us now is detrimental to our mental health and so I purposely limit my exposure and instead focus upon trying to be positively productive.

I am sharing this with you because I believe that my mother was absolutely right as she would light the Jewish Sabbath candles on Friday evening and recite the prayers in Hebrew and English and then add “Thank you God for our health, our wealth and our loved ones.”

When one evening I asked her why she made health the paramount gratitude Mama said firmly, “Health is everything. You do not realise this until you lose it.” Mama knew this because she and her family lived through two world wars that resulted in mental and physical poor health for millions, a polio epidemic, numerous flu epidemics and many more episodes of individual and collective poor health situations during her lifetime. Therefore, for me, health is my priority now and every day I make an effort to stay well and this is helped by finding ways to also help others.

The great motivator Dale Carnegie wrote nearly 100 years ago about a woman whose physical and mental health was in decline and when she turned to him for help he advised her to “Go and fine someone who is worse off than you and help them.” She followed his instructions and in a few weeks was restored to better health.

In my own experience, helping others is a great pleasure of life and whether it is serving on the board of an association, delivering a surprise bag of toys to children who have been cooped up due to the quarantine, trimming the hedges at a local church, working in a chrity shop to raise funds for cancer research, providing free tap dance lessons on the internet or offering to volunteer to be a Kindness Caller with Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland I find that each opportunity brings me far greater joy than could ever be experienced by the receiver of my efforts.

The heart is both a strong and a fragile organ. An individual may physically have a strong heart muscle, however due to depression or prolonged sadness, that muscle may weaken due to mental stress. Therefore, one of the ways that I exercise my heart is not solely through physical exercise as in my daily walk, but also through filling it with the joy of helping others in some small way.

Whether you are homebound (as we are due to self isolation) or out and about as an essential worker, I believe our foremost challenge and opportunity now is to simply stay well and to help others. After all, the two are insperable, as I have found during this panedmic. The bonus of learning and mastering this discipline of staying well and helping others might just help prolong our lives in a more healthy and joyful way after the pandemic has left us as well. And for me, that would be a great outcome from a dark time in all of our lives.

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