Friday, July 14, 2017

Ah, Young Love --- at 81

Enough already! I'm the one who claims to promote ‘thriving in late-life.’ Yet the last few posts have concentrated on my own ‘unthriving.’ It is time for a change, to focus on something more upbeat, yet just as age-appropriate. With that in mind I’ve dusted off an earlier post that I loved the first time around. Surprise---I still do.
Just imagine the possibilities. What could a storyteller like myself make of it? Former high-school sweethearts, Jack and Betty, are eighty-one years old and about to meet again for the first time in sixty-two years. Months of letters, emails, and phone calls have fanned old feelings, setting the stage for a much anticipated reunion. Now, as we watch, Jack prepares himself for that moment of truth.
Sounds like something beyond October, doesn’t it? Eighty-one has the ring of November. But no matter the label, our friend Jack is awash in anxious ‘schoolboy’ feelings, facing questions he has not asked, or answered, in a very long time. 
I have made the point before. The often-timid fellows who inhabit the pages of my Tanner Chronicle stories are not the torn-shirt, Alpha Males you see on the cover of supermarket paperbacks. In a moment, when you meet Jack, you will know what I mean.
In any case, as his plane descends to the airport where he and Betty are to meet, those questions are growing more urgent by the second. What will she look like? Will he even recognize her? And what will she think when she sees the “him” he has become?
It must be a bit disorienting at that age---the unlikely revival of schoolboy dreams. As silly as it sounds, Jack is caught up in a new and hopeful ‘geriatric adolescence.’ As you watch the video I’ve linked to the end of this post the results may strike you as funny. That’s okay. You’ll notice that he too sees the humor in his dilemma. 
Yet there is no hiding the deep and powerful feelings behind his embarrassed chuckles. From beginning to end his story is a testament to late-life love, with a dose of teenage anxiety thrown in for good measure. Of course, those feelings of his may be over-hopeful---but there is no doubting their reality.
Truth in tell---when I used this clip in a post a couple years ago I was just a kid myself---78 going on 79. Now, with 81 lurking just around the corner, making me nearly as old as Jack and Betty, I am better able to empathize with their situation. In a word, I can ‘relate.‘ Matter of fact, they strike me as a perfect illustration of October Boldness, the willingness to take a chance when the calendar seems to say it is too late. (Apparently that works in November too.)
You can see the questions on the face of our anxious ‘video hero’ as he takes the next timid steps (actually he is in a wheelchair) toward their reunion---fueled by still-powerful recollections of a much earlier time. Sure, he is old enough to realize that every stage of life brings hardship and disappointment. For October and November folks those obstacles come in many forms---infirmity, the painful loss of a loved one, financial setbacks, even relational concerns. Still, though Jack’s limitations are there to be seen, you can tell that he is counting on new, but long-familiar feelings to see him through.
Most of us have known the healing power of loving affirmation. We understand how much we need someone’s special caring when we are tested. That is true at any time of life, but especially in late-life. With its unique challenges, there is no other time of life when the enabling support of love and caring is more important. 
And with that caring support comes its working partner---‘Hope’---the necessary catalyst that makes it all happen. You can hear that in Jack’s story. Whether at eighteen or eighty one, it is those feelings of love  that nurtures hope. Or is it hope that nurtures love? Either way the two go hand in hand---reinforcing each other, impacting what we feel and shaping our perception of what is possible. It’s a reality that I try to capture in my stories---the affirming effects of caring and hope, and how they enable us to keep Becoming in October and beyond.
For the lucky ones among us it’s always been that way---though of course husbands and wives at seventy or eighty are very different persons than they were at twenty or twenty-five. (I think I hear Roma shouting her agreement.) But after a lifetime together we scarcely notice those changes. Why would we? We have made that journey together. More importantly, we remember those years (as well as we remember anything these days) and all those changes through the prism of love.
So, you might ask, what is it that has an old fossil like me carrying on about that sort of kid’s stuff? After all, it was a long time ago---those heady, hormone-driven years. Right? 
So, you might ask, what is it that has an old fossil like me carrying on about that sort of kid’s stuff? After all, it was a long time ago---those heady, hormone-driven years. Right? I hope you will take a couple minutes to watch THIS CLIP. Put yourself in Jack or Betty’s shoes. Realize that as much as some things have changed, the overriding need to care about each other remains. By the end of their story you can tell that both of them understand that.
Finally, if it seems to you this is a message that deserves to be passed on to others, I hope you will consider forwarding it to those who might enjoy hearing the truth to be found in Jack's story.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

LIVING WITH DYING - Installment 7

I suppose it goes without saying that a story which purports to follow the course of my cancer adventure can only go as far and as fast as the disease itself, and my efforts to deal with it. 
It seems that for the next month or two I am in a holding pattern. In that case, I am not sure how interesting this last installment (at least for a while) will be. In one sense it feels like whatever drama is involved has been put on hold. In the meantime, I envision this post as being a way to (1) remind myself of how things are being changed by this new lifestyle of mine, and (2) provide an opportunity to review some of the ways I can adapt and cope.

As I have said before, all this began with some bad news. Before long that had me wondering if the reasons to keep going, the ones I had imagined so far, would be enough to see me through to the end. Now when I look ahead, trying to envision that future---the possibilities and the obstacles---I ask myself if I have what it takes to live a purposeful life in the face of death---i.e. Living with Dying? (I paused right here to scold myself. Why make it sound like that only happens to me, when everyone must carry on in the face of death?)
One thing for sure, I want to move beyond the geriatric fluff I read and hear about late-life---the stiffly-posed golf course scenes and smiling travel ads that do not reflect our life at all. Fact is, I have lived enough ‘fluff’ for one lifetime. I want my remaining years to deal with the ‘real stuff.‘ In my mind cancer qualifies as ‘real.’ My response should be just as real.
I have been around long enough to understand that a life spent pursuing superficial goals---wealth, recognition, status, etc---is likely to be a superficial life. I know that, because I have spent too much of my life chasing after those seductive prizes---with very mixed results. But now, as the veil of November reality settles over me, I can see that those once-appealing goals were too often idols---false gods, tempting but empty. I hope my last years can be more than that.
That, of course, does not mean that I know where all this is leading me. There are certainly some things I have not worked out yet, and probably never will. I do not have all the answers. 
For instance, I will admit that I still wrestle with a particular slice of that ‘false-god scenario,’ one I may never outgrow. Friends, family, even complete strangers, keep posting alluring photos of enticing, far-away sights on Facebook. Some are places Roma and I remember visiting, and would love to see again. Others are destinations we have never seen, but wish we could.
 It would be so easy to place those intriguing travel adventures near the top of my November ‘to do’ list---at least until I reel my thoughts back to the ‘real’ world. You see, given our health limitations, financial capabilities, and simply the people we have become, late-life reality argues against extended travel. As a younger man I would never have imagined that a night or two in a classy hotel would have this once-bold adventurer longing for his own bed. So instead, we are likely to put those travel dreams aside and revisit the shelves of photo albums we have accumulated over the years, remembering those times (when we can) and reliving those moments.
In the meantime I am left to wonder what comes next in the personal adventure Roma and I are living. Chances are it will be a while before that sorts itself out. The doctor tells me it will take another month or two to know how effective the first round of six treatments has been. At that point he will recommend the next steps. 
And while I wait I want to sort through some of the options I have in mind for the future I intend. I will start that process with the assumption that all of us October and November folks have more to work with than we sometimes realize. A lifetime of hard-won elder wisdom, the things we have learned along the way, ought not be dismissed, especially in our ‘down and out’ moments, when it feels like our late-life potential is more limited than we would like. We must not give up on ourselves.
Personally, I intend to keep going---filling these blog pages when it feels like I have something to say, and carrying on with my Tanner Chronicle stories. There are two of those in the works right now, and another taking shape in my slightly deluded mind.


 With that, I want to sign off with a bit of that ‘elder wisdom’ that my cousin learned as a much younger woman. When her four-year old son faced a terminal cancer diagnosis, given two weeks to live, she railed against God and life in general---until that is, she was visited by a wise and inspired epiphany, a simple question that seemed to put everything in perspective.
Instead of being bogged down in “Why us?” she was moved to ask, “Why not us? Why does it always have to be someone else? Everyone who is born will die sometime.” 
With that understanding came what she calls a “wonderful feeling of peace.’ Today, after decades of harsh treatments and troublesome side-effects, her son is 42 years old and “still a pistol.”
I will end this on that happy note, and the understanding that when it comes to 'Living with Dying' I am a rank amatuer. We live in a world where unexpected trials are visited on people every day---harsh circumstances that make my late-life trial look like a speed bump. Bottom line---when our turn comes, and you know it does for everyone at one time or another, it is up to us to summon the inspiration and strength to keep sharing our love and caring---to keep Becoming.

PS - Finally, if you are so inclined I hope you will consider sharing these seven installments of Living With Dying with anyone you feel might be interested.