Chances are you know how it feels. We may not like to admit it, but if we have been around long enough we know it is true. Whether it has been calm and cushy or littered with trials we would like to forget, we understand that our October is only a way-station on the road to November. Which means that even at our age, we still need to keep our eyes on the road ahead.
There was a time, in the olden days, when I made my living as a Business Manager. Actually, in one form or another that was what I did for the whole of two different careers. An important part of that work was looking ahead and planning for what came next. As you can imagine, that works best when you know where you are now, and where you want to go.
Ten years ago, as I started off on what would become Career Path 3.0---a wannabe writer---I thought I knew where I was. It was a place I called “October.” But at that point I had no plan at all. Why would I? I had written a single novel-length story thirty years before and nothing since. I was six years into retirement, struggling to find a reason for getting up each morning. From my perspective October was not going so well. I’ve covered that ground before---how I was flunking retirement.
Have you ever been there---that place where you are not sure what you want to do or which way to turn? I know from experience that those unsettling doubts---so many questions and so few answers---make planning ahead a tricky thing. It is hard to navigate such uncertainty at any time, but especially in the uncharted landscape of late-life.
I know that in my case, when I finally turned my attention back to that earlier storytelling interest, I was more than a little skeptical. It was, after all, a passing fancy that had come and gone before---one of those things I might try again some day, or so I told myself. But everyone does that. Right? We all have a story we want to tell, or some other dream we hope to play out. But how many of us get around to doing that? So much for planning ahead.
Yet, no matter what our goal, we all know how good it feels when our “wanting” actually leads to “doing.” There I was, a month or so before my fiftieth high-school reunion, ready to put pen to paper. But what would I write about? I asked that question a time or two before settling on a likely answer. Without looking back, and with only the most basic of plans, I began the Harris brothers’ story---two books that started with their fiftieth reunion. I had told myself I could do it, and I was. I liked the way that made me feel.
From the beginning I was telling up-close and personal stories of what I call the “October” of life, about real people dealing with late-life reality. Was the writing great? Not so much, though it got better with time. Besides, I had not set out to create literature, but simply tell my stories.
Along the way I populated those stories with a collection of ordinary, yet very special seniors---whom I imagined into being and came to care about. In the course of ten books those friends of mine have faced a litany of October challenges---good times and bad, illness and accidents, poverty and depression. There have been life partners lost, first-loves rekindled, second-loves found and sometimes lost. For ten long years I wrote about October, mainly because it felt like the time of life that described me.
Then it finally dawned on me. Who was I kidding? Times were changing, and so was I. Having spent all that time in October, it was time to consider a new reality---one that waits out there for most everyone. There is only one way to avoid it, and I’m not willing to settle for that. So here I am, ready to move on to what I call “November.” Though it’s a label I have steered clear of in the past, I’ll admit it seems descriptive of the guy I am becoming.
Like my Tanner friends, and perhaps you too, I am graduating to the next level. Though I do so with a certain reluctance, I know it’s what comes next. We can’t hold back November any more than we can return to September. Though it feels a bit like losing an old friend, the time has come to say goodbye to October and get acquainted with November.
I have carried on about “change” for years, how October means change---in myself and the stories I tell. Now I’ve reached the point where October doesn’t work so well any more. It is too limiting. Think about it for a moment. All around us friends and acquaintances are adapting, trying on a new time of life---sampling new possibilities and facing new challenges. They are increasingly content to tend their flowers, grow their veggies, and lose themselves in a good book. They choose cruises over backpacking, and prefer the comfort of their own bed to a big-city hotel. Bake-at-home pizza sounds better than a fancy restaurant. For some, financial planning has become less about high-yielding investments and more about keeping what they have. And always, lurking in the background, are the troublesome health questions we would rather not think about.
And then there is family---the children who have become parents, the grandchildren who are having kids of their own---a new generation for us to spoil. We love them to pieces, even though we don’t understand half of what they say and do. My God, there are times when they make Last Tango in Halifax sound like a documentary. And of course, when it comes to computers, television remotes, and cell phones they are the ones we call.
We know the change I am talking about will include new lessons to be learned. For instance, there was a time when I assumed that October, and certainly November, would be bleak and boring, a fate to hide from. Watching my own parents and grandparents deal with that time of life---living their own late-life routines, dealing with kids and grandkids who had no idea what their elders were facing---I never realized that along with bleak and boring, there would be frustration and pain, as well as pleasure and excitement. Though at the time I had no clue of what life was like for them, I see now that what was their life has become my life.
It’s true, you and I have learned a lot in the course of a lifetime. Is there any reason to think our life-lessons have ended? Whether we see ourselves in October or November, life goes on. Every day arrives with its own expectations and challenges. November’s “to-do” list may look different than October’s, but it is no less demanding. And though it may not qualify as ‘planning ahead,’ it seems that life has a way of preparing us for the future. Until, in its own time, our December arrives. In the meanwhile, why not devote ourselves to thriving in our own October and November? That is what today’s new blog title is meant to encourage.