Monday, June 27, 2016

October works best as a shared effort

   Do you believe in signs? I do---sort of. Perhaps “believe” is too strong a word, but I do pay attention to the twists and turns of October life that seem to make or reinforce a particular point. Who knows, it might be a sign.
    With the upcoming publication of Breathing Underwater there will be eleven Tanner Chronicles books on my shelf. Each of them is a relational story---hopeful seniors in search of a lasting relationship. Yet in the midst of their seeking each of them is dealing with one or more of the distressing realities that dot our October landscape. 
        From time to time all of us come face to face with some kind of late-life obstacle. But no matter what the challenge, one important truth remains unchanged---dealing with October and beyond usually (though not always) works best when it is a shared effort.
        I hope you will stay with me through this, all the way to the end. What I’m hoping for is a celebration of a late-life truth for which we ought to be thankful. But to reach that comforting space we must first address some very uncelebratory realities. 
        You see, it was a real bummer, that day last week when Roma and I had to go our separate ways so each of us could attend one of the two funerals scheduled just a couple hours apart. Of course, we knew those sad mornings are a part of October and November---but that doesn’t make them any easier. We live in a vulnerable time of life, a time when we depend on each other more than ever.
         The fact is, the October challenges we face rarely impact just us. It is a simple bit of logic---the truest of the truth usually is. The trials we deal with are bound to touch our partner, our family, our close friends---everyone who cares about us. Having steered a dozen or so fictional acquaintances through the quicksand of senior troubles, I can attest---and you can too---that those hard times impact all the players. 
        More than that, our often-twisting October path is a two-way street. As much as we need the caring and support of those around us, there will be times when it is our turn to offer the help they need. There are even times when the apparent “victim” is called on to support his or her own support team. At every turn late-life works best as a shared experience. 
      Needless to say, the last miles of our journey toward the great unknown we cannot avoid are apt to be a daunting time. Does that sound too dark, too depressing to think about? I hope not. Over the years I have painted some of my Tanner Chronicle friends into one or more of those distressing corners.
      However, in my way of thinking the most depressing circumstance of all would be to face those times alone. Those last miles are a time for special caring and support. For those of us who have experienced the need for a special someone to see us through October and beyond the opportunity to grow old together makes all the difference. 
         The willingness of my Tanner friends to seek a new connection that will hopefully help overcome their loneliness is at the heart of my stories. Making that time of life a shared experience is an important motivator for the October characters I have imagined into being. Somehow, a 300 page tale that ends with the two of them going their separate ways is not all that satisfying---though it has happened a time or two. 
          Finally, however---we mustn’t forget that not everyone is a candidate for that “together” future. For any number of reasons many of our October peers choose not to rely on another life-mate, but instead focus on a different sort of shared future---one that includes themselves, their family and friends, and the memory of the partner who had seen them through their shared trials. If that works for them, who can argue with the choice they’ve made?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Last Ones

Truth be told, most of us have lived a charmed life. Though it hasn't always felt that way, we have had a lot going for us. The following piece---The Last Ones, makes that point very forcefully.

The essay was forwarded to me by my friend, Don Zeh. Sadly, however, I don't have an author's name to credit. In any case, if you are an October or November type, chances are you will recognize the world you grew up in---the one your grandchildren can scarcely imagine. I'd be interested in hearing what you think of it.

 'The Last Ones,’ 

Children of the 30s & 40s.     A Short Memoir

Born in the 1930s and early 40s, we exist as a very special age cohort. 

We are the "last ones."  We are the last, climbing out of the depression, who can remember the winds of war and the war itself with fathers and uncles going off.  We are the last to remember ration books for everything from sugar to shoes to stoves.  We saved tin foil and poured fat into tin cans.  We saw cars up on blocks because tires weren't available.  My mother delivered milk in a horse drawn cart.

We are the last to hear Roosevelt's radio assurances and to see gold stars in the front windows of our grieving neighbors.  We can also remember the parades on August 15, 1945; VJ Day.

We saw the 'boys' home from the war build their Cape Cod style houses, pouring the cellar, tar papering it over and living there until they could afford the time and money to build it out.

We are the last who spent childhood without television; instead imagining what we heard on the radio.  As we all like to brag, with no TV, we spent our childhood "playing outside until the street lights came on."  We did play outside and we did play on our own.  There was no little league.

The lack of television in our early years meant, for most of us, that we had little real understanding of what the world was like.  Our Saturday afternoons, if at the movies, gave us newsreels of the war and the holocaust sandwiched in between westerns and cartoons.  Newspapers and magazines were written for adults.  We are the last who had to find out for ourselves.

As we grew up, the country was exploding with growth.  The G.I. Bill gave returning veterans the means to get an education and spurred colleges to grow.  VA loans fanned a housing boom.  Pent up demand coupled with new installment payment plans put factories to work.  New highways would bring jobs and mobility.  The veterans joined civic clubs and became active in politics.  In the late 40s and early 50's the country seemed to lie in the embrace of brisk but quiet order as it gave birth to its new middle class.  Our parents understandably became absorbed with their own new lives.  They were free from the confines of the depression and the war.  They threw themselves into exploring opportunities they had never imagined.

We weren't neglected but we weren't today's all-consuming family focus.  They were glad we played by ourselves 'until the street lights came on.'  They were busy discovering the post war world.

Most of us had no life plan, but with the unexpected virtue of ignorance and an economic rising tide we simply stepped into the world and went to find out.  We entered a world of overflowing plenty and opportunity; a world where we were welcomed. Based on our na├»ve belief that there was more where this came from, we shaped life as we went.

We enjoyed a luxury; we felt secure in our future.  Of course, just as today, not all Americans shared in this experience.  Depression poverty was deep rooted.  Polio was still a crippler.  The Korean War was a dark presage in the early 50s and by mid-decade school children were ducking under desks.  China became Red China.  Eisenhower sent the first 'advisors' to Vietnam.  Castro set up camp in Cuba and Khrushchev came to power.
We are the last to experience an interlude when there were no existential threats to our homeland.  We came of age in the late 40s and early 50s.  The war was over and the cold war, terrorism, climate change, technological upheaval and perpetual economic insecurity had yet to haunt life with insistent unease.

Only we can remember both a time of apocalyptic war and a time when our world was secure and full of bright promise and plenty.  We experienced both.

We grew up at the best possible time, a time when the world was getting better not worse.

We are the 'last ones.'

If you are one of those "Last Ones" you might consider forward this to others who have shared that time and place.