There is a running joke in the hilarious and poignant one-man show, Old Man and the Pool by Mike Birbiglia.
His family uses the salutation “Take care” as a parting proxy for “I love you” – which apparently they never say to one another. It is suggested, understandably, that these two words are an insufficient substitute for the three words that are the gold standard in expressing how we feel for another person.
Yet there is a larger running theme throughout the show that the phrase “Take care” carries. His performance is an eighty-five minute rumination on mortality. How our bodies often fail us and how we similarly fail them.
For most of his life, Birbiglia is essentially not taking care of himself. His annual doctor visits, replete with poor test results and bad diagnoses, should be the impetus for change but often are not.
What ultimately motivates him is a simple calculation and realization. Both his father and grandfather had heart attacks at the age of 57. One lethal and the other the first of several. He calculates how old his young daughter will be when he turns 57 and realizes she will only be 19.
In the new Disney+ series, Limitless, the actor Chris Hemsworth (aka Thor) questions his own mortality by wondering if he’ll be around to play with his grandkids – and if so what kind of shape will he be in. Each episode looks at a different risk factor that could lessen his chances of a long happy life. In one particularly devastating episode Hemsworth learns that genetically he has a 40-50% chance of developing Alzheimer’s – a disease his grandfather currently suffers from.
In both Old Man and the Pool and Limitless, two well off celebrities with resources to spare, discover that they are not taking care of themselves the way they probably should. The solutions for each are slightly different but familiar to us all. Manage our stress, eat more nutritiously, exercise regularly, and sleep well. But there are other hacks shared – things like walking in nature for twenty minutes a week, spending more time with friends or using the last thirty seconds in the shower each day to stand under extremely cold water – that have surprisingly long lasting health benefits. In the case of Birbiglia it’s taking up swimming and applying the famous words of a dying Warren Zevon – “enjoy every sandwich,” as inspiration to moderate his eating habits.
I’m not sure whether it was serendipity or intention that exposed me to these two pieces of content within weeks of each another. One I stumbled upon while channel surfing, the other was a Christmas gift from my wife. Regardless they were well timed as both my recent birthday and the onset of the new year are obvious cause for reflection.
Interestingly enough, I had also scheduled my own annual physical for later this month. The timing was set so I could use this month to undo the harm caused by bad holiday habits and hopefully “game” my test results.
In large part, I don’t take care of myself the way I know I should. I look healthier than I am. My ability to occasionally go on a three mile run without my heart exploding belies my actual level of fitness. In short, I’m fooling myself.
Ultimately, “Take care,” while it may sound like a throwaway parting comment is – when said with feeling – a true act of love. It is us telling someone else that we want them to take care of themselves because we love having them around.
So please take care. If not for yourself then for those who love you.