I’m a storyteller, and for me it’s hard to imagine a story that is not at heart a relational story. Whether it’s about young lovers, time-traveling vagabonds, zombies and vampires, or in the extreme---October Years seniors---at some point you and the author are exploring the role of relationship in the lives of the characters. The writer is helping us understand why the characters act the way they do. Beyond that, he or she is hoping to make us care about the relationship they are describing---the obstacles it faces, if it will last, how it impacts the bigger story.
I suppose the stereotypical image of seniors, the ones I write about, is of folks who are set in their ways---unbending, not open to new experiences, relying instead on the logic of “we’ve always done it this way.” In fact, it’s nothing at all like that, at least not for my Tanner friends. The October lives I describe are in the midst of change. They have to be. They and their world are changing, sometimes faster than ever. Like us, they are not the persons they were a year ago, or the ones they will be next year.
Most of us have experienced the April version of relationship at least once. You know---young dreams, young love, young hormones. (Remember those?) It was a time of new experiences, when anything seemed possible. That was April love. We’ve been there and done that. But mixing October's late-life changes with the natural anxiety of a new relationship provides the ingredients for a very different kind of relational story. We may think we know how to play that game. Yet chances are we’ve never been there with someone who, like us, brings the baggage, barnacles, and limitations that come with October. Of course the resulting relationship will be different. Why wouldn’t it be? After all, we’ve spent a lifetime changing---and that process continues.
However, the relation seekers I portray are a tenacious bunch, not the kind to be easily put off. The fellow may win her in the end, or he may not. October endings are not always happy. But either way it won’t be for lack of trying. It’s a trait we’ve learned over a lifetime. By the time you’re dealing with what might be your last chance, you’re not apt to be giving up.
It’s that way for Jack Benz in Becoming. He has pursued her for so long. And though he doesn’t recognize her at first, and it’s hard to understand what she has to say, he won’t be backing off until he knows her better.
Hank Rolland, on the other hand, has run away from his Conversations With Sarah---all the way to the Mendocino headlands, before he finally understands what his Sarah has been trying to tell him.
Going Poor offers a very different take on October change---about a time when the “happily ever after” dreams we learned to dream as youngsters have gone terribly wrong. Yet, even when the good things we deserve turn out badly, and that happens a lot these days, dreams of relationship do not die. They may, in fact, become more urgent.
Finally there is perhaps the ultimate example of October relational change. What happens to a relationship when the deep shadows of dementia intrude? In Best Friends and Promises Aaron Peck deals with that distressing form of change. Leona is still there. But the love and companionship she has always represented are gone. In time his October trials are further complicated by the all-to-human need for new companionship, and the upsetting attention of someone willing to ease his loneliness.
At every turn there are late-life relational stories waiting to be told. Be aware, however. They are not the stories of youthful abandon, the ones that line the supermarket bookshelves. And while you’re at it, throw away your stereotypes---of used-up seniors and their altogether boring lives. The October seekers I depict, the ones trying so hard to overcome the emptiness of life lived alone, are definitely worth getting to know.
As always, if you’re so inclined I’d appreciate your comments, posted below. Beyond that, if there are folks with whom you’d like to share this October Years post I hope you’ll pass it on. It’s an easy thing to do. Just click on the “M” at the bottom of this page to email the post, with the video, to any addresses you choose.