Lost Volumes, Missing Pages

storm over louisiana

Photo: Storm over Louisiana by Joe Hartlaub. All rights reserved.

(Note: Before we get into today’s post…I am writing this while sitting in a very nice, dry place, probably somewhat similar to where you are reading it. Over 100,000 households were destroyed in the Baton Rouge area last week leaving people without nice, dry places to do anything. The area needs contractors, money, and building and cleaning supplies. It will be YEARS before the area recovers, and it might never recover totally. IF you can help, please do so: http://www.samaritanspurse.com; also, Billy Graham Ministries has sent a rapid response team to the area: https://billygraham.org/what-we-do/evangelism-outreach/rapid-response-team/about/.) Thank you.

What follows will no doubt seem depressing, though I don’t mean it to be. I’ll bookend what I’m about to tell you with the proposition that we should each and all count our blessings and not waste one moment of one day. Each minute counts. Things as we age will eventually get worse or they’ll get over. It’s just how life works. Live in the now and enjoy it.

I returned to New Orleans this week after an absence of about three years. I’m attending a legal seminar that is held annually and visiting my many friends here, some of whom attend the seminar and others who reside here. Many are in the process, alas, of leaving the building. The change, which seems more dramatic after having not seen them for nigh on three years, is sudden. One, a goodhearted guy who jousts tirelessly at windmills and is often unappreciated by those he champions, has skin cancer which continues to advance despite painful surgeries. Another has had two strokes which have left him debilitated but nonetheless cheerful. A third, a woman who means well but who has suffered from a lifetime of impulsive choices, has succumbed yet again to addiction.

The saddest, however, is a friend in nearby Baton Rouge who has experienced a sudden onset and subsequent rapid decline secondary to Alzheimer’s Disease. His twin brother died with the condition in December of last year. My friend said to me then, “Gee, I hope that doesn’t happen to me.” He started slipping away in April. I visited with him at his home and then drove him around Baton Rouge, where he has lived all of his life. He pointed out many familiar landmarks but couldn’t remember the restaurant where he had eaten lunch several times a week before he had to stop driving. He’s an author who at one point co-owned a publishing company and was a mover and shaker in state politics. He had a million stories, including one where I accidentally almost got both of us arrested during a visit to the state capitol building. A conversation with him now jumps and drops and skips. I listened to him and thought of pages missing from a book, library volumes lent and never returned, with only gaps in the shelves to mark their presence. His decline is such that when I come back in three weeks he may no longer recognize me or otherwise remember me. That’s not a big deal, in the general scheme of things, but it marks a deterioration for him (even though he is only somewhat aware of it) and for his family. The term “tragic” doesn’t quite cover the extent of it.

So, that bookend: let us each and all count our blessings and not waste one moment of one day. Each minute counts. Things as we age will eventually get worse or they’ll get over. It’s just how life works. Live in the now and enjoy it.

I will be unavailable for most of the day today but will attempt to respond to comments intermittently or later. Enjoy yourselves. And visit someone you haven’t seen for a while, or with whom you’ve lost touch. You don’t know how much longer you’ll have them. Time, alas, is short and the sand runs ever more quickly through the hourglass.



25 thoughts on “Lost Volumes, Missing Pages

  1. I’m so sorry about your friends. Boy, you’ve gotten hit hard with awful news. My heart goes out to you, Joe.

    I loved your metaphor about missing pages. Having known sufferers of Alzheimer’s, I could relate. It’s such a frightening and sad disease.

    • Thank you so much, Sue. As sad as it might be for me, what is happening to the individuals afflicted — by illness and disaster — and their families is much, much worse. I’m counting blessings.

      Thanks again and enjoy your day.

  2. Joe, sorry to hear of the dementia in your good friend. It’s a horrible disease. I lost my father to it a year and a half ago. And the hardest part is sitting around an Alzheimer’s unit, watching all the dear souls slowly decline, people who (as you mentioned) were shakers and movers, people with high intellect. Man, it’s depressing, watching that decline, sliding down that slippery slope.

    And on a brighter note, I, too am at a conference, a writers’ conference in Nashville. I’m following your advice, about what is important. Somehow I’ve been able to let go of the “agenda” and simply enjoy meeting new people, making new friends.

    Thanks for the post and reminder of what’s important.

    Safe travels, my friend!

    • Thank you, Steve. I lost my father the same way, several years ago. It’s frightening. Hope you’re doing well.

      Enjoy the conference! I’ve made lifelong friends at those (as well as the legal seminar I’m attending now). I love Nashville. It’s a terrific city, one of the best, in my opinion. I would note, however, that the path of I-65 through downtown was apparently designed by a team of LSD-infused spiders…

      Safe journeys back to the heartland, my friend…

  3. I’m sorry to hear about your friends. Alzheimer’s, strokes, it’s all so devastating. I have a friend in Baton Rouge who has been keeping her FB contacts updated with the horrible damage of the flooding and I know, were she on TKZ, she would echo your sentiments about living in the now and reaching out to those you care about now, because you never know when your next chance will be your last.

    Thanks for your post.

  4. Thank you for your kind words, BK. Re: Baton Rouge…there’s a ripple effect. The nature of Louisiana is such that everyone — literally — knows or is related to someone who has been devastated by this. Several of the people at the seminar I am attending are either from Baton Rouge or have relatives there. I hear new stories everyday, none of them good. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Joe, I am so sorry about your friend. You are so right that we should make every moment count. Yesterday I learned of a cousin’s death by apparent suicide. Her mother passed away only a month ago and she didn’t want to go on living. Granted, we weren’t very close, but these things always leave me wondering if I could have (should have) done more to reach out to her.

    • Thank you, Joan, and I am sorry for the tragedy in your family as well. Sometimes when despair takes root in an individual there’s not much anyone can do other than be there, if possible. Suicide is not a solitary act…it affects people far beyond the actor. Thank you for sharing. Be well and go in peace.

  6. I’m sorry about your friend, Joe, and the other stories you are hearing. I know what you mean. I have a friend of 30 years who was just diagnosed with stomach cancer that has spread to far to be treated. He probably won’t see his birthday in December. He lives on the other side of the state, so it is hard to get there for a visit. But we talk nearly every day.

    You mentioned Billy Graham. I once heard him say that we should plan like we’re going to live a hundred years, but live like we might die tomorrow.

    The past is a fleeting memory, and the future is nowhere guaranteed. Today is all we have for certain. Thank you for the reminder. And God be with you and yours.

    • David, thank you for your comments, good wishes, and for stopping by today. My grandfather died of stomach cancer some forty years ago and it’s a tough way to go. Your friend, I am sure, will appreciate your calls during his final days. At least you can help him ease the transition that lies ahead. God bless you as well, my friend.

  7. Your words hit home to me today and I thank you for sharing them. As I get older, every minute is precious and I try not to waste them. No matter what our age, we all need a reminder of that.

    I too, have had friends and family succumb to Alzheimers and feel your angst. Some quiet thoughts for him and you.

    Now to go back and finish my book.

    • Thank you, Jan. Your thoughts are much appreciated. And good luck with finishing that book. Please let us know how things are going.

  8. So far, Altzheimers is not in my family, but anyone could be the exception, or fall off the roof one day, as a close friend’s father did.

    Living each day to the fullest is advice we often give to the younger folk, and they might not listen to it any more than many of us did when we were young. Another reality of life, perhaps… an “if I knew then what I know now” philosophy that can bring us happiness and the ability to live with priorities firmly in place, if only we had recognized it at the time.

    Thank you for the reminder.

    • Sheryl, thanks for stopping by. There seems to be at least some genetic marker for Alzheimer’s…everyone on my dad’s side had it (and there is at least some evidence of dementia going back literally for centuries) though there may well have been other contributing factors. No one on my mother’s side had it, at all. Fingers crossed. As you pointed out, however, something will get you sooner as later.
      Enjoy the day.

  9. Thank you for mentioning Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham organization. These two organizations are usually out of the thoughts of many people when it comes to providing relief and mental and spiritual guidance to people in desperate circumstances.

    I’m sorry I can do nothing for your friend except pray for, and think about him. I have had friends in similar circumstances. I have had my heart broken watching them slide into eternity, sometimes–often–with no one watching over their last days, then their last moments.

    I’m grateful you have taken the time to do so for your friend, and to remind us that there are many . . . so many others.

    • Jim, you’re welcome, and that you for your kind words. We get focused on the physical devastation because it’s tangible…the spiritual and emotional destruction often lingers on and on. Billy Graham’s rapid response team doesn’t do a belief check; they simply help everyone in need in the devastated areas.

      I also should note that The Healing Place in Baton Rouge http://healingplacechurch.org/disaster-relief/ has boots on the ground help for folks in need from the floods. THP in the best of times sponsors mobile medical clinics in underserved neighborhoods, food pantries, and the like. They have really stepped up their game in response to the current need. Everyone, please check them out. And thanks again, Jim.

  10. Thank you for a much needed reminder to keep things in perspective, Joe. I have family in the flood impacted area, it’s been a tough haul.

    • Kathryn, I knew you had family in the South, but didn’t know they were affected. Whoa. I’m so sorry. It will all get sorted out eventually, and after a fashion, but in the meanwhile it’s devastating on every level. Prayers for them and for you.

    • Thank you so much for your kind comments, Tom. All the best to you and yours as well.

  11. So much sadness in this post, my dear. But you’ve infused it with so much love, I was able to see the heart even more clearly. Your Baton Rouge friend will always live in your stories. It’s the immortality that we all have, if we have lived well. A real treasure. You’re a good friend.
    The idea of losing my mind and my memories terrifies me every day. I’m way more afraid of that than I am of dying. And I definitely don’t want to know ahead of time if I have dementia or Alzheimer’s markers. Que será será.

    • Thank you, Laura. I can always count on you. I hope I’m a good friend. I’ll see him again in a few weeks…I think I WANT to know if I have the markers so that I can make…arrangements, if you will. I totally get why you don’t want to know, however. If I knew, everytime I would forget a name I would think, “Is this it?”

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting Laura. See you soon.

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