Thursday, March 24, 2016

These October Years are not for sissies

   You’ve probably seen the flashy commercials, the ones urging us to imagine our sixties and seventies---what I call the October Years---as a time of carefree relaxation, spiced by exotic travel and country club luxury. Madison Avenue even has a name for the seductive picture they paint. They tell us over and over that we’ve spent a lifetime earning what they call our Golden Years.
   I sincerely hope those glowing mind-pictures describe the future that awaits you. Sadly, however, too many of our October peers will find their autumn decades defined by a very different sort of reality, a stressful blend of upsetting ingredients---among them financial hardship, medical vulnerability, and depressing loneliness---that feels anything but Golden. 
     Still, no matter what form it takes for you, October works best if you are fortunate enough to make it a shared experience. That's why I've arranged for Roma to join me today.
     It can be a hard thing, making your way through that maze of October perils. Fact is, October is not for sissies. That is especially true if you’ve spent a lifetime in a more hospitable place. Yet sad to say, no matter how well we have prepared for what lies ahead, some of us are bound to experience the harsher side of October life---those times when once-robust health and always-reliable support systems are no longer effective, leaving us to navigate uncharted waters. 
   Even the fortunate ones---those who anticipate a storybook retirement---may find the normally favorable odds stacked against them.
   As one who writes relational tales about October inhabitants of a place I call Tanner, it is important that my stories reflect the truth of their sometimes unsettling circumstances. Even when, in the throes of their geriatric adolescence, my relation-seekers manage to find each other--- coming together for what may be their last “real thing”---you can be sure that new-found relationship will bear little resemblance to their youthful “first time” experiences.
   That’s not to say my October friends won’t have a laugh or two along the way. They certainly will. After all, a sense of humor is a necessary October ally. But even then I want to be sure their humor is age appropriate---with a slightly harder edge, tinged by the prospects of an uncertain future. And then, of course, there are those times we all face when there is no place for humor of any kind.
   For instance, in Best Friends and Promises I deal with Aaron Peck’s hurtful circumstances. For month after distressing month he watches helplessly as Leona's dementia robs her ability to accept his love or show her own---stretching their life-long connection thinner and thinner, until finally she is out of reach.
  Then, with Leona in retreat Aaron's best friend, Johnny Blanton, is again rushed to the ICU. By then Aaron is sinking into a lonely void so real that it threatens his being. In the pain of that loneliness he seeks comfort in a way that would never have crossed his mind in more normal times. Her name is Beverly, and her undisguised interest has Aaron caught in that fragile space between wanting the comfort of a best friend and remembering his long-ago matrimonial promises.
   Aaron Peck’s dire situation is full of storytelling possibilities. It is not, however, fertile ground for Pollyannish answers. As stories go it sounds like something less than happily-ever-after, doesn't it? And it is. Yet it is also upbeat, hopeful, and true-to-life---as October-real as can be.
   Like the rest of us, Aaron must carry on toward his own future. In spite of the pitfalls that await him he must advance boldly, because these October Years are not a time to be timid. They require our best efforts and an appreciation of small victories.
   By actual count I rewrote the ending of Aaron’s story seven times before I found what seemed to me the right one. I guarantee you, he does not take the easy way out. I hope some of you will take the bold step of reading Aaron’s story for yourself. I’d like to hear what you think---about his unorthodox response to unorthodox times, and perhaps your own “not for sissies” experience.