Director's Column: What the Late Marlon Brando Can Teach Us About Health Promotion
|James H. Rimmer, Ph.D., Director|
All of us have been visited by this 'messenger of misery' - and on more than one occasion. This was a term coined by the recently deceased Marlon Brando, who after learning that his son had murdered his daughter's boyfriend, commented to the press, 'The messenger of misery visited my home today.' I recall several years ago being in total wonder, watching his Academy Award-winning performance as Don Corleone in the movie, 'The Godfather.' With his raspy voice and cold, piercing eyes, Brando was able to transform himself into a mobster who controlled the streets of New York City. He was a dynamic actor who kept you riveted to your seat, waiting for that one line or moment when all hell would break loose because someone betrayed ... 'the Godfather.' And yet, in stark contrast to what you might expect from someone living with great fame and fortune (How many of us can claim to own a tropical island?!), Marlon Brando was a deeply troubled man struggling with depression, anger, and loneliness. While the 'Godfather' solidified his place in Hollywood's Hall of Fame, watching this hopeless figure testify in front of a judge on behalf of his son for the murder of his daughter's boyfriend was a chilling reminder of how Brando's screen life was often inextricable from his personal life. Shortly after his son was convicted of murder, his daughter committed suicide. Brando went through many relationships and fathered many children, but on the day of his death, he died a lonely man, failing at husbandry, fatherhood, and personhood.
What does any of this have to do with health promotion? Everything. I believe that maintaining your health through the darkest moments of your life can provide you with a sense of stability and strength. The mental or physical pain will take time to subside, but during this difficult period, you must do everything possible to maintain your personal health. Had Brando not doubled his body weight and had used health promotion to strengthen his mind, body, and soul, he would have lived a more rewarding and fulfilling life and died a happier man. I'm sure of it. This means eating well, sleeping soundly, exercising, having a sense of purpose, and believing in something that transcends this life and gives you an external source of energy to help you keep going. The state of your health can make a huge difference in how prepared you are when tragedy strikes. Meditation or prayer during a long walk or wheel, performing Yoga, or going for a swim, are a few examples of activities that will keep your immune system strong and your depression or sadness in check while you wait for the pain to go away. Many people who have had terrible losses in their lives often have their own health deteriorate as a result of poor health habits. When the 'messenger of misery' arrives at their door, they are not prepared.
I recall the difficult time my wife went through after the loss of her mother. Every morning she awakened with sadness in her heart, which lasted for almost two years after her mother's death. No one knew what she was going through because she was able to put on her 'happy face' and drive to work, giving everyone the impression that life was great. I recall asking her almost two years later if she was still silently bereaving the loss of her mother, and she replied softly, 'Yes.' But what got her through those difficult times -- I believe -- were four critical things: (1) spirituality, (2) regular exercise, (3) sound nutrition, (4) and a supportive person in her life.
People with disabilities are ready and able to deal with the realities in their lives but unfortunately, many have little access to the types of health promotion activities that they need to stabilize themselves through the most difficult times. Healthy food is more expensive than junk food, or the grocery store where fresh fruits and vegetables are sold is too far away; there is no money for a health club membership; the social support unit is missing; and there is no sense of hope that the future will be better than the present. Just imagine what it would be like to have to deal with the loss of someone close to you while dealing with the iniquities of health care, finding a supportive personal assistant, and surviving on a fixed income that barely covers food, rent, and medicine. As a society, we must begin to 'right the ship' and address the important issues regarding accessible health promotion for people with disabilities. Marlon Brando's life would have surely been better had he lived a healthier lifestyle.