The Organ Recital

Photo courtesy of Sydney Rae,

Where did the year(s) go? Is there a way to slow things down, before one reaches the age of the organ recital? What is that, you ask?

A friend of mine who is a bit ahead of me agewise has a weekly meeting with an ever-dwindling group of his friends from high school. My pal recently referred to one of these gatherings as “the organ recital.” I asked him what he meant, and he said, “Y’know, this guy talks about his liver problems. That one is talking about starting renal dialysis in two weeks. We’re going to have to change our meeting day. I’ve had two heart attacks, and my pancreas won’t survive another Christmas of Reese’s Trees and Giant Eagle Egg Nog ice cream. The bags of all-season cheese curls probably don’t help either. We all try to one-up each other about how sick we are, whose organ will go first and which one it will be.”

I’ve noticed this practice among my own circle of friends of a certain age. Their daily routines seem to be intervals between trips to this specialist or that specialist. I don’t engage in this because I don’t go to the doctor. It’s not an act of denial. I know what’s coming.  I just don’t care to know which of my bodily parts might be planning a suicidal onslaught against me or if they’re going to collaborate on some sort of kamikaze run at an inopportune time, like when I’m attempting to navigate the silly-string pattern of I-65 through downtown Nashville, when they’ll say, “Let’s cut the strings on this puppet right NOW!”  Oh, sure, I wake up at 3 AM and wonder momentarily if that sudden, tear-inducing pain in my side is a tumor the size of Milwaukee, boldly shouldering aside everything in its ever-increasing path, or if that twinge of chest pain is a signal to the conductor that, thanks to regular patronage of Arby’s and Sonic, that left anterior descending artery is blocked up and the remaining available tracks can’t handle the freight. They all go away, however, and everything still seems to work okay, so I forget about them until the next minor complaint arises. Wash, rinse, and repeat.

Young folks don’t think about this, but they normally don’t have friends who have died suddenly in their sleep, or after a series of hospital stays, or while unable to recognize loved ones or even themselves as they spend their final days in an institution which has come to be known, ironically enough, as a memory facility. When you are in your thirties, such things seem miles away, over the river and through the woods, something that happens to others, to old people. They don’t realize how fast time passes. That distant toll of the bell all too soon becomes up close and personal.

2018 wasn’t been one of my better years, but there have been worse, much worse. The worst of them were the worst of them due by and large to self-inflicted damage and will hopefully never be repeated, thanks to acquired wisdom and accumulated guile. 2018 was sadly memorable for watching a number of folks I have loved to varying degrees lay down their swords and shields and pass ahead to the next stage. I am fortunate at the moment, however, to be more Harry than Tonto, more weekend than Bernie. There is still much for which to look forward. My children continue to surprise me in good and great ways, and my granddaughter promises much and delivers more. On the cultural side, there is a new James Lee Burke novel — The New Iberia Blues — and a new season of Luther coming. The new year also has the promise of some new horizons to see before any final sunset, if good fortune prevails. Hoping for the best while preparing for the worst seems to cover all of the bases. Until that moment when it doesn’t, of course.

While I have the chance let me tell you that I am so thankful for each and every one of you that I can’t adequately express it.  Thanks for stopping by, reading, commenting, and being a friend to everyone at TKZ. You are the reason why we show up. And please: keep writing, writing, and writing until the tip of that spear you call your story is as sharp as you can get it. That friend I mentioned at the beginning of this piece is fond of saying (in another context) that a used key stays shiny. Keep using your talents and shining them up until they are so bright that they cannot be ignored.

Thank you. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. See you in 2019.

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About Joe Hartlaub

Joe Hartlaub is an attorney, author, actor and book and music reviewer. Joe is a Fox News contributor on book publishing industry and publishing law and has participated on several panels dealing with book, film, and music business law. He lives with his family in Westerville, Ohio.

26 thoughts on “The Organ Recital

  1. Great post, Joe, and spot-on. I suspect we’re about the same age, if I’m not your elder by a few years. Great quote, too, by your friend. “A used key stays shiny” indeed.

    My own health situation requires regular doctor visits, but it also spurs me to get back in the chair and put my fingers on the keyboard at every opportunity. My characters have dozens more stories to tell, and they get a little miffed when I don’t show up.

  2. Thanks, Harvey. I hope you keep visiting that keyboard and giving your characters a platform. As we get older I think that the need to prioritize becomes greater. Samuel Johnson said, ““Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” Indeed! Have a great 2019.

  3. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year back at ya. You and the rest of the TKZ authors and all the commenters have really helped me in my writing this year. Thank you!

    • You are welcome, Priscilla, and thank you for your good wishes. I hope we can continue to earn your visits in 2019!

    • Thank you, Cynthia! Re: time flying, Joni Mitchell’s song “The Circle Game” says it all, particularly the line about dragging your feet to slow those circles down. She was a wise old soul way before her time. I wonder if she chuckles now when she thinks of that line…

  4. The shiny key. A great metaphor because, often, that key shines even after you’ve put it away and won’t use it anymore. Sometimes, there is a delay in the passing on of the key.

    My great-great-great grandfather was the last Sun Dance priest of our tribe. His son, my great-great grandfather, was the first ordained minister in our tribe. According to our family story, my great-great-grandfather went out into the rain to round up horses. He apparently caught the flu and was in the process of dying. He and his father spent time together before my great-great grandfather passed. One of the last things my great-great grandfather told his Dad was, unless he became a Christian, they would never meet again. Eventually, my great-great grandfather’s great heart stopped.

    My great-great-great grandfather spent a lot of time contemplating his son’s words. Eventually, he realized his son was right: there was no way his Kiowa religion would ever have a way for them to see one another again. He became a Christian. Then did something that, he said, ruined his life.

    As Sun Dance priest and thereby spiritual leader of the Kiowas, he came to understand that, after the Sun Dance in the years they were held, would whip the men into some kind of psychological or spiritual frenzy, and they would go out to fight the army. Many young and older men died in the weeks following the dance. My great-great-great grandfather used his courage and position to stop the Sun Dance altogether.

    That caused great alarm and anger among the Kiowa people. My great-great-great grandfather said in later years that he became a lonely man after that. People quit coming to visit him, did not send gifts of beef (Kiowas are a meat-eating, meat-loving people), and no longer sought his spiritual guidance and counseling. Only a few close relative and friends spent time visiting with him. My mother says that she remembers him as an old man who relegated himself to helping and loving the children. He would cut up their meat, help them get drinks of water from the bucket-and-dipper that had to be filled up from a pump in the front yard, and tell them stories.

    Today, the Sun Dance is still dead. There have been several attempts by various people to re-start it, but the practice of not holding it is based on the words of my great-great-great grandfather.

    And, interestingly enough, the old traditional Kiowas still claim him as one of theirs–that, they say, he never did really become a Christian. But it is the insistence and testimony of his family that he did.

    The silver key my great-great-great grandfather passed on was not a great reputation, not an untarnished life in the eyes of many. But the fact that he stood by his decision to keep the senseless fighting high or spirit or whatever you want to call it from being stirred up so that the men went out to fight an army they could never beat, has impressed the hearts of many Kiowa people. Today, he is honored by the insistence from the informal Kiowa leadership that the dance remain dead. Many men lived because of what he did.

    Sometimes, it seems, there is a delay in the passing on of the silver key. In my great-great-great grandfather’s time, the delay in the passing of the key meant he got to touch the lives of many children with love and kindness.

    Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, Joe. Aught some biscuit?

    • Jim, thanks so much for sharing that extremely interesting and provocative story. It’s informative in that it shows how sometimes one person can change things just by standing firm. Your great-great-great grandfather sounds like he was quite a guy. The generational apples don’t seem to fall from the tree, either. Happy 2019!

  5. Joe-
    Wishing you all the best as well!
    Thank you for the “heads-up“ on James Lee Burke’s release. I’ve noted through the years that we share an appreciation for his writing mastery. Perhaps this year Dave R. and Clete P. will be visited by deserved peace snd well-being??
    I suspect not but hope and pray their gifted creator does not experience any of the organ failure that dominates the conversations and lives of the “experienced” among us.
    As a physician I am moved to suggest getting yourself checked out. You decide what is worth pursuing but certainly some simple measures such as treating high blood pressure (easy and negligible risk/hassle) can extend life and decrease likelihood of bad stuff (stroke, heart attack, kidney failure).
    As an ER doc I hope you will not ignore significant chest pain, trouble breathing, stroke symptoms or other. Believe me Joe there is a network of caring and skilled medics, nurses, techs, doctors and more who are dedicated to saving your ass (organs?) when bad shit happens.
    Based in decades of personal experience I can assure you that miraculous interventions and results happen every day.
    Please take advantage of this rescue/treatment network should you ever be in need.
    I am certain all TKZers hope, as I do, that you will continue to share your heart and wisdom here for a very long time.
    Wishing health, love and peace to you and yours!

    • Thank you, Tom. Re: the new Burke, this is a no spoiler zone but I will say that with respect to that peace and well-being thing could go either way by story’s end.

      As far as preventive checkups go, I have my own philosophy which has served me well so far. That said, I would certainly head to the ER if I found myself experiencing symptoms which would indicate that my final meeting with Elizabeth was nigh. Thanks for the encouragement and as always for the best wishes, which I send to you as well.

  6. Ah, yes, the organ recital. I’ve heard that as well and am entering the age where I understand where it comes from. The subject of healthcare is one that is very big for me. I think we can be a lot healther if we start looking at ways to allow the body to heal itself. I’m not talking just about herbs & supplements–we have been conditioned to accept chemicals and foreign body parts as FIRST means of defense. Instead, looking at things like “why is that knee in that condition in the first place” and how could we have done a better job early in the person’s life of preventing it? There is much improvement to be done in healthcare & I hope I will live to see some of it–hope I will live to see “WHOLE person” healthcare take hold.

    In the meantime, have a wonderful Christmas and New Year’s, to you, your fellow TKZ bloggers, and all TKZ visitors. I very much look forward to your posts and always appreciate your insightful observations on life and writing.

    • Thank you, BK, for your good wishes and for stopping by and commenting so regularly. Have a great 2019!

  7. Osteoporosis is doing a number on my hips but yesterday, I got off my fanny and did took a two-mile walk in the pouring rain instead of taking a nap with the dog.
    You sit, you rust. Simple as that. Stay on the right side of the dirt.

    My dog is 18 and still tries to chase squirrels. Until she forgets what she was running after. If she can do it, so can I.

    A new season of Luther…a reason to go on!

    Best of health to you in the coming year.

    • Kristy, the new season of Luther looks REALLY good. And guess who is back? Yes, she is!

      Bless your doggy’s heart. And bless yours for indulging her.

      I gotcha on that rust thing. My ankle monitor goes off if I go past the mailbox so I got a treadmill. I figure that there is no law that says I have to be sedentary while I binge watch horror movies. The miles just fly by.

      Happy New Year to you, yours, and Louis!

  8. Good morning, Joe. Thanks for an interesting and timely post. As I tell my patients when they want to whine, the good Lord is telling us that this world is not our home. And as your friend, (I’m not on call this weekend), I won’t add any further medical advice. You know all those things, and each person chooses what he/she wants to do.

    As for keeping the key shiny, I can tell you that a little organ “malfunction” (a couple broken ribs) will keep your butt in the chair and writing. You can’t do anything else.

    And finally, thanks for all your posts and wisdom shared over the past year. Thanks for your friendship. I hope you have a very merry Christmas. And may next year be full of success and joy.

    • Good morning, Steve! I like your take on discomfort. Those are words and wisdom to remember. And thanks for the reminder on broken ribs. Some folks seem to think that broken ribs aren’t serious because the only thing that can be done for them is to wrap them. Wrong!

      Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Steve, to you and Cindy. And thanks so much for your kind words, friendship, and example year in and year out.

  9. Writing is the blessing that keeps most of us going. If life gives us lemons, we write lemon pie recipes. The Organ Recital sound like a stand alone novel to me and you’d be the best one to write it. Let’s see, four old guys in a coffee shop chatting, they get dragged into a murder . . .
    Many times you’ve touched my heart. Merry Christmas and a fantastic 2019.

    • Thank you, Brian. You’re easy to please. Re: The Organ Recital, that vignette kind of reminds me of the opening chapter of Peter Straub’s Ghost Story in a way. However, that’s not a bad idea. I need to give my friend first dibs on it — he already provided me with the title of “Starlets and Spaceboys,” one of my short stories — but if he passes I may pick up the gauntlet.

      Have a Merry Christmas and a great 2019!

  10. Joe, your posts always touch my heart. Your wisdom has been hard earned and you increase its value tenfold by sharing it with us. It’s a privilege to *know* you and hope one day to meet you in person.

    Merry Christmas to you and your family and wishing you a HEALTHY, productive 2019!

    • Debbie, thank you not only for your kindness but also for your friendship. Indeed, one day your luck will run out and we will meet! 🙂

      I hope you have a terrific Christmas season and a great 2019!

  11. Pingback: The Organ Recital | Loleta Abi

  12. Joe, late to the party (as is often the case). Yes, I’ve reached the age of the “organ recital,” and although my journey isn’t the same as yours, I hope to keep going until God decides He’s ready for me. Until then, I’ll try to share–as you always do–what little wisdom I’ve accumulated over the years. Merry Christmas and happy 2019 to you and yours.

  13. Richard, you are never late to the party because the party never stops at TKZ! Thanks for reading and sharing this year and keep going…it’s harder to hit a moving target. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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