Ways we can transform ourselves by redefining health and our approach

In “Health is Membership,” many metaphors related by Berry explained the separation that exists in modern times between organic, natural ways, and mechanic, abstract procedures of maintaining health. The paragraph that begins with, “In the world of love, things separated by efficiency and specialization strive to come back together.” is an example of how the role that love plays is important for understanding concepts of life and health. Ultimately, Berry makes the point that death is a concept that medical procedures try to find cures to defeat, and while it is not a bad idea, death inevitably occurs. To maintain the health of a community who is mourning the loss of an individual, love must also be present in order for life to continue. I understood from personal experience when Berry stated that the hospital lacks organic ways of maintaining the happiness of patients, such as nourishing, adequate food, and peaceful rest. When I visited my parents and grandmother in the hospital individually in separate cases, it was a forlorn experience for me as a visitor because the hospital environment felt very isolating and was somewhat unpleasant for the senses. I couldn’t very much interact with them because they would be in bed the whole time with nothing but a T.V. with cartoons playing for entertainment in the room. I felt bad watching my mom laying down in bed and being clearly bored, leaving food on the table half-eaten. Even though our family was there to support my mom, the environment affected us as well. I knew that it was better to leave my mom be at the hospital until they were done with the surgical procedure before she returned home, and it was a relief when she did. I can’t imagine how it is like for families who have their loved ones in the hospitals for extended periods of time, rather than just for a procedure. My aunt wanted to take my grandma home from the hospital and feed and take care of her from home, which is understandable, but I think the situation would’ve been better if she’d been properly instructed on what consistency of food would be safe for feeding, and have been provided with a nurse (or one who paid daily visits to the home).

Berry explicates the need to bring conversation about environmental change to be defined in down-to-earth terms. The paragraph beginning with “Love is never abstract.” on page 200 in “Word and Flesh” of What Are People For? by Wendell Berry states that love should be the main motivator for improving one’s community by taking important matters into one’s own hands. He uses the term “love” because if there were economic motivations and not pure desire in making a positive contribution to the health of the world, then it might not be helping it. Improving the world starts with improving one community’s contribution by sacrificing one’s economic privileges in favor of more organic ways of living. It is a communal—not an individual—effort, because individuals cannot change the economic and environmental systems in place if their lives depended on how their goals contrasted with the community’s way of doing things. I found the statement, “[Love] exists by its willingness to be anonymous, humble, and unrewarded.” to capture perfectly what love for the Earth means. It bothers me deeply that in one of the classes I have currently, we are instructed to propose engineering ideas that profit. It cannot simply be an idea for which resources are used for that seek to make social change in the local community (e.g. my proposal to provide group housing and resources for the homeless in the city of Gainesville). If it is a proposal asking a national organization for funding or resources, it must appeal to the sponsor in terms of placing the United States above other countries in the market, or of the great danger that that present practices or the environment imposes on the health of people. The problem is that improving the environment does not return in immediate gratification—the results cannot pay back investments in material forms, at least not immediately. It may take generations to be able to see improvements in the environment, only by comparison. If we found ourselves living in a better environment and a better economy, we’d have past generations to thank for doing thankless work in their lifetime.

One key idea that Berry relates is the notion that one doesn’t really understand what it’s like to lose a limb or a part of oneself in an abrupt, unforgiving manner until one actually experiences it. In the short story “Dismemberment,” an old man named Andy loses his dominant right hand and takes us through stages of denial and emotions felt such as embarrassment and anger as he struggles to readjust to a new way of life without his hand. The situation he experiences seems comparable in a way to a farmer who had his land taken away without warning one evening, or a person who suffered the passing of his wife, or even the sudden change in daily life parents experience when their children move to college or move out of their home permanently. I was particularly touched by the excerpt in paragraph 8 that demonstrates the confidence and trust the old man starts to build in his horses when he finds himself needing help doing tasks. Sometimes along with losing a fundamental part of ourselves, we gain a sort of sensitivity to things we wouldn’t have given thought to, such as imagining how the horses may care about their owner and exhibit a willingness to be patient. Although I don’t think I’ve undergone a drastic change or loss of something in an abrupt way that affected my way of life, I think my own experiences have made me more susceptible to empathize with others who may be being treated unfairly. While it’s easier to take the side of the bully in a group situation or turn a blind eye to those who are ostracized, it takes some level of priority—and care, truthfully—to break the ice and actively look for ways outsiders can still be included on a one-to-one basis. In taking actions to what you believe in, you also are surrounding yourself with the people your personality and morals would match better with, and ultimately be happier than trying to fit in another group of friends whose situations may be troubling and mentally exhausting (not to say the experience is the same for every member of the group). This kind of result is hinted at near the end of “Dismemberment” when Andy discovers a friend willing to share in his work and they happen to be some of the last remaining members of the old community. Both Andy and Danny live more fulfilling lives with the company of each other, not feeling any less advantaged because as Danny says, “we’ve got three hands. Everybody needs at least three. Nobody ever needed more.”

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