“Then the podiatrist looked at my little toe and said, ‘Lady, what you have is a…’” But just as things are about to get interesting my friend claps her hand over her mouth and says, “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to bore you with an organ recital!” If you are a woman of a certain age, you know that the phrase “organ recital” does not necessarily refer to a performance of Bach in a cathedral.
Why do so many women feel apologetic about mentioning a wonky knee or a sore neck? Though clearly in distress, they smile through their pain and heroically refuse to talk about “unpleasant things.” Even if their health concerns dominate their inner life, they think that bringing up these issues is a failure of stoicism and an imposition on their listeners.
I disagree. Not only do I not mind organ recitals, but I often find them entertaining and instructive. There are myriad ways in which the aging body betrays us, and myriad ways in which each individual chooses to deal with these betrayals. I think them all fascinating, and not in a morbid way.
However, as with the Bach recitals, much depends on the performer. A whiny or self-pitying tone makes me want to change the subject at the earliest opportunity, as does a solo that goes on and on. But if told briefly, with a rueful smile and a sense of irony, these tales have much to offer. They can be informative (who knew that aloe vera is good for arthritis?), and they can also be inspiring. When someone recovering from major surgery mentions that she’s just walked two miles, it puts my own complaints in proportion and gives me the push I need to trudge all the way to the top of the hill.
Listening to organ recitals is one way in which we can support each other, too. It is no use pretending that our bodies are not often on our minds, and if listening to a friend’s concerns makes her feel less alone, I could do worse than lend her an ear. And when it’s my turn at the instrument, it comforts me to know that I have a sympathetic audience.
We are embodied creatures, destined to experience pain. Animals instinctively isolate themselves when they are ill, to keep predators from noticing their weakness. But we are verbal, social beings, and the occasional organ recital, done moderately and in chosen company, can be as healing and consoling as listening to Bach.