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Be Well...

January 21, 2010 | 10 Comments

Dear Mr. Keillor,
As longtime fan of A Prairie Home Companion and a daily listener to The Writer's Almanac, I find both comfort and encouragement in your fatherly sign-off for the latter program: Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

But I've often wondered what you mean when you say, "Be well." How do you define well-being? What do you do to achieve it?

Steve C.
Wabash College


You're a college guy and I'm an old writer, Steve, so we're looking at this from different angles. I'm more aware of decline and decrepitude than you possibly could be. I'm at the age when people tell me, "You're looking good" in that tone of voice that says "for a guy your age." For me, well-being has a lot to do with forward motion. I need to have deadlines, a list of projects, people who rely on me, some ambition on my back like an outboard motor. Good health is good, of course, and you don't want big black splotches showing up on the CAT scan, but my sense of well-being comes from waking up each day with work to do. It was different when I was in college: the work was imposed by teachers and so much of it seemed irrelevant, make-work, a lot of pointless exercises. What you hope for in life is a sense of a calling, a vocation, which simply means that one goes to one's work gratefully, not out of fear or habit but with a whole heart. It's the whole-heartedness that makes for well-being. Everyone has to live with a degree of doubt and restlessness, but there's nothing like enthusiasm, especially when you're 67. I have a plumber in my house right now, working to repair a pipe that broke when it froze and rebuild part of a jerry-rigged heating system, and it is so clear to me that this man loves his work. So does my internist. So do the women who care for my ancient mother. So do the musicians on the radio show and the writers of the Almanac. Thanks for your note.


A calling. What we all wish for. Then there is no work, merely activity and effort in the pursuit of our calling. Then we are satisfied to be.

"Be well." Something our family attorney typically said as we left him. I think it may have an origin in hebraic culture, "Sei gesund." It's a wish, a kindness extended to another person, as in "Y'all come" or "have a great day."
I use it frequently, but when the spirit doesn't move me.

Thanks for defining something that was nudging the edges of my consciousness but had previously refused to enter. My own 67-year-old being is grateful to look forward to activities that need doing, and I have timidly crept into public writing as part of that expanding being. I take my lead from my 94-year-old dad who is still alive, alert and curious about the world. He embodies your definition of well-being.

It's a bad sign when people start complimenting you on being "spry."

Appreciating the above reflecting "well" on the breadth / depth of Garrison, I look forward to seeing his sequels on "do good work, and keep in touch" in totalling that trilogy.

Ps: Regarding the comment by Wee George as above, 'wonder whether in his last-line he meant "I [don't] use it frequently..."

Yes, Joe Tomczyk, you are correct. I'll admit that there are a very few that don't get that wish from me.

When I visit my son's home for a few days, he always wants me to "sit down and relax," which means to do nothing. He doesn't understand that I am relaxing when I weed the garden, or plant flowers, or bake a pie, or build a stone walkway to the front door, or prune the trees and brush from his wooded lot. Garrison's answer confirms, I believe, that as long as I'm "doing" I'm living, that performing these kinds of activities come from a need for a purposeful life and bring a satisfaction and fulfillment that no sitting on a couch can give. I must send his answer to my son...

It is kind of like the mantra of mine: Make it a good day. You can wish for anyone to have a good day, but it takes an alert clear presence of mind to make it a good day...It is a simple choice. Be well--is just the same. It is not so much the physical-ness our bodies may represent, but a mental state of mind. It is up to us to find it and do our best.

THANK YOU, Mr. Keillor, for continually writing and speaking with common sense and intellectual wisdom. Your "Unreality is the Current Reality" adeptly expresses our sad state of affairs.

I'm wondering whether you contemplate acknowledging April 21 as the centennial of the death of Mark Twain, an author to whom you're sometimes compared (favorably)?

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