Wednesday, May 31, 2023

LET'S PRETEND


 


                       Let’s Pretend

             (Originally posted 2/2017)





So, what does a fellow do when his world seems to have gone empty, and he is left to dwell on his own thoughts. When the future seems filled with  dubious possibilities perhaps it is time to return to the past……..revisiting the times we have left in our wake. Would that be enough to have me acting my age?


Ah, the wonders of late-life. Who would believe that an eighty-six year-old mind could still be hiding those eighty year-old memories? More to the point, how could that eighty-six year-old mind still manage to locate those well-hidden recollections?


Those were the questions today’s reposting of a 2017 October Years blog had me asking. I’ll bet you have been in that space too……trying to fathom how ancient memories of once incidental events still have the power to set you thinking.


Truth to tell, it was a bit humbling to realize the impact the following bit of remembering still produces.


***********


It’s okay, you know. After all, I am used to it by now….showing my November age like this. The more I do it, the easier it becomes, even when I am reliving a slightly unorthodox memory.


For instance, let’s take a moment to consider something as mundane as Saturday morning. I’m guessing that most of us like Saturdays, don’t we? Especially if it is not a work day. 


But I must admit that I am not talking about just any Saturday morning. I happen to have some particular ones in mind….from a time when Saturday morning was something especially special. I invite you to join me for a moment as I return to some of those well-remembered, all-time favorite Saturday mornings….circa 1945, 1946, or 1947.


What is that? You say you cannot ‘return’ to 1945, because it had come and gone before your arrival on the scene. Darn, I am sorry to hear that, because that means you missed some really good Saturday mornings. 


Take this, for example. As I recall it was ten o’clock, mid-morning, when the living room radio greeted us with a loud and enthusiastic.........”It’s Big John and Sparky! And There’s No School Today!” Man, after all these years I can still hear that happy call to action as clear as anything. I’ll bet you would have loved it too.


Or how about Chandu, the Magician? I think that was nine o’clock, or maybe nine-thirty. True, he was a semi-creepy fellow, at least the way I saw him in my mind. But he always had a trick up his sleeve. And in the end he was on our side. What I remember most of all was the spooky organ music that played in the background.


Earlier that morning, at eight-thirty, we had tuned in to Smilin’ Ed and the Buster Brown Gang. Actually,  it seems like I ought to remember more about that half hour than just the excited introduction.....with Tige, the Buster Brown dog, barking like he was happy to see us. At the time I don’t suppose I even realized there were other programs airing at that hour, or if there were why anyone would bother to listen to them. By then Tige’s happy-yapping had me hooked.


It was, as you can tell, a different time. Later, many of us would learn to consider Saturday a ‘sleep-in’ day. But not so in those post-war radio days, at least not in our home. Mom had to get us up early enough on Saturday to have breakfast finished before eight o’clock. Though getting us up and about on a school probably took some doing….Saturday mornings were different. 


After all, brother Roger and I needed to be parked in front of the old hardwood Zenith radio by eight o’clock for Let’s Pretend, the storytime program that always started our radio Saturday. (Why was it we had to ‘watch’ the radio?)


So, you might be wondering….what the heck does that have to do with anything. What was there about my childhood Saturday mornings that warrants all that? Let’s see if I can explain.


Have you ever stopped to wonder why some obscure thought or memory, one you had not considered for decades, suddenly pops into your head? Was there an existential purpose at work, or was it purely accidental? Whatever the reason, those are the questions I am asking myself on this morning. 


You see, as I have mentioned before on these pages, I have spent my October Years writing stories….fictional stories. By definition that means I have made them up, created them out of thin air…..and a dose of dubious brain matter.


Yet not until a few days ago, for reasons I still don’t understand, did it dawn on me that I was actually in the “What if?” business. That is, after all, one way to describe fiction, isn’t it? 


The writer, any writer, begins with a question…. ’What if an alien force is threatening the earth?’….’What if zombies are about to invade?’ ….’What if the killer is about to get away?’…. ’What if an eighty-year-old guy falls for Lady Gaga’ Thing is, no matter what the question, the answer will be told in the form of a story.…a fictional story.


That is what writers of fiction do. They provide their personal answers a series of “What if?” questions. That’s what I try to do. Except, my stories are not about world annihilation, zombie invasions, Donald Trump’s truth-telling skills, or the hard-to-define allure of Lady Gaga. Instead, I tell ‘What if?’ stories about late-life folks facing their own October….and/or November.


It was those thoughts, those questions, that had brought me to an awkward pause…..wondering how I would introduce my latest story, Closing the Circle. I had stumbled around a bit before the possibility dawned on me. In a very personal way it felt as though I was closing my own circle….from Let’s Pretend to What if


The more I though about it, the more my sometimes muddled mind saw the irony of what I was up to. Having learned to pretend as a child, here I was spending my October Years creating “What if?” Tales, i.e. “pretend” answers to ‘pretend’ questions. In a very real way I was right back where I had started.


So what about Closing the Circle, you ask? (At least I hope your do.) What if a young man, adopted at birth, sets out to find his birth parents? What sort of story might I create to answer that ‘What if?’ question? Then, to further complicate matters, what if the birth parents he finally finds are still nursing their own deep regrets about having separated before his birth, leaving each of them to wonder what might have been had they stayed together.?


Of course, there are as many answers to those questions as there are persons who choose to answer them. I happen to like the answer I “pretended” into being. And at the same time, when I was done it felt a bit like closing my own circle….from ‘pretending’ to ‘what if?’ and back.


      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Following that same line of remembering I invite, actually I urge, those of you who remember those long-ago radio days to use the “Comment” section below to offer your own examples of radio  favorites. 




Wednesday, May 24, 2023

THE L AST ONES


 

              THE LAST ONES

  (Originally posted 6/2016)






Truth be told, most of we October/November folks have lived a charmed life. Though it hasn't always felt that way, fact is 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 late friend, Don Zeh. Sadly, 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


Those of us born in the 1930s and early 40s have existed as a very special age cohort. We are the "Last Ones."  


We are the last to climb out of the depression, who can remember the winds of war and the war itself, when fathers and uncles went off to combat.  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 own mother delivered milk in a horse drawn cart.


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


We saw the 'boys' come home from the war to build their Cape Cod style houses, pouring the concrete cellar, tar papering the flat roof, and living there until they could afford the time and money to finish their new home.


We were the last to have spent our childhood without television. Instead we imagined what we heard on the radio.  As we all like to brag about, with no TV, we spent our childhood "playing outside until the street lights came on."  Indeed, we did play outside, and we did play on our own.  There was no little league to pamper us.


The lack of television in our early years meant that most of us had little real understanding of what the world was like.  On Saturday afternoons, if we went to the movies, we saw newsreels of the war and the holocaust sandwiched  between westerns and cartoons.  In our mind newspapers and magazines were written for adults.  We were 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, spurring colleges to grow.  VA mortgage loans fanned a housing boom.  Pent up demand, coupled with new installment payment plans, put factories to work.  New highways brought additional jobs and mobility.  The veterans joined civic clubs and became active in politics. 


 In the late 40s and early 50's the country we called home seemed to lie in the embrace of a brisk but quiet order…..an environment that fostered 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 their younger selves had never imagined.


As youngsters we were not neglected, nor were we swallowed up in what would become today's all-consuming family focus.  We were glad to play by ourselves 'until the street lights came on.'  After all, we were busy discovering our own new, post-war world.


Most of us had no conscious life plan, but with the unexpected virtue of ignorance and a rising economic tide, we simply moved on, ready to find our place.  We entered a world overflowing with plenty and opportunity….a world where we were welcomed. Based on our na├»ve belief that there would always be more where that came from, we shaped our life as we moved ahead. Through it all, we enjoyed an unquestioned luxury….we felt secure in our future.  


But of course, just as today, not all Americans shared that vision of a secure future.  Pockets of deep-rooted Depression poverty remained.  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 were the last to have experienced 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 arrive on the scene ….haunting modern life with insistent uneasiness.


Only we October/November survivors can remember both a time of apocalyptic war and a time when our world was secure and full of bright promise and plenty.  We were the fortunate ones who 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 forwarding this to others who have shared that time and place……or the younger ones who need to know about that time.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2023

THEY ARE PEOPLE STORIES



They are people stories that include action, not action stories that include people

 (Originally posted 12/2014)






    There had been a new review of one of my stories, part of an Amazon Writer’s Contest……and with it  came another round of “reviewer angst.” I was hoping that if a so-called expert’s blunt opinion of my story didn’t bring me down, it was bound to make me stronger. Isn’t that what they say? I

Actually, in the end I am not sure I was stronger for the experience, but with Suzie’s not-so-subtle prodding I was finally able to settle on an answer that worked for me.

    I must admit, however, it took a few days to process her judgement, and create my own response …..which I posted in the following blog, stating my reply to her professional judgement. 

      

                                        ***********************


By now, having turned seventy-eight, after telling my stories for nearly ten years, you might think that I’ve learned quite a bit about storytelling. Perhaps so. But there is also so much I have yet to learn. I still have a long way to go. A few weeks ago I was reminded once again of that sad truth.


Actually, though it had me squirming a bit at the time, I was glad, in an uneasy sort of way, to have the lady’s input. They say she knows her stuff. After all, she makes her living rendering her ‘expert’ opinions….working for an agency that represents writers, trying to sell their stories to publishers. She (I’ll call her Suzie) understood what her publishing clients want. And what they want….whether the story is a whodunit, a dark and sinister vampire saga, or a steamy romance….is fast-moving action, the kind that grabs the reader on page one and never lets up.


Pretty hard to argue with that, eh? And I didn’t try, at least not until Suzie, who had been assigned to critique my Second Chances story for the Amazon.com contest, rendered her verdict…. explaining in so many words that the first chapter was a “painfully slow” start to the book. About then I could tell she was not the sort to mince words.


Should I have let her judgment upset me, even a little bit? Probably not. Did it? Yeah, it did, at least “a little bit”….maybe more. Actually, the first time I read her appraisal it felt as though our conversation was over before it had begun. It was later that day, when I reread Suzie’s blunt critique, that I began to sense why she and I were not seeing eye to eye about something I take very personally. 


I began by asking myself where I had gone so wrong. How had I missed the mark by so much? By then I realized that, regardless of Suzie’s opinion, I was telling the story I wanted to tell the way I want to tell it. Granted, a better writer could do that better. But this was my story. It said what I wanted to say, the way I wanted to say it. More than that, by then I was sensing the truth of it......why Suzie and I were not on the same page. 


You see, in the books that Suzie represents (I’ll call them “action” stories) the characters are there to keep things moving at the desired pace….acting and reacting in ways that move the storyline along. It seems to me that is their role in the scheme of things….to provide the action, piece together the clues, stand up to the bad guys, and take chances…. all in the name of advancing the plot. At every turn the players are there to serve the story.


Small wonder that Suzie struggled with my unorthodox tale. The folks I write about are October seekers….seniors looking to overcome the challenges of late-life. But just because they are rarely expected to save the world from nuclear disaster, don’t be misled. Their stories do include an abundance of age-appropriate action. They too will take chances, stand up to bad guys, and have their adventures.


But instead of serving some predetermined story line, my reason for telling the story is always about the characters I have imagined into being......my interpretation of how they deal with their October challenges. My purpose is to know those people better….to understand, and convey to the reader, what they are facing and how they cope. 


Their adventures….in the form of conflict, disappointment, and wrong turns….are meant to depict their personal trials….their uncomfortable choices and daunting decisions….rather than simply keep the story moving ahead. As one of those “Octobers folks,” it is their reactions and responses that interest me.


By the time I had worked my way through that line of reasoning I realized that I had answered my own question. It wasn’t Suzie’s answer, but it works for me. I was ready to admit that if the characters’ main role in a story is to keep the plot moving toward some intended outcome, then my October tales simply don’t pass muster. One of my friends, who usually reads mysteries….page turners she can’t put down….claims she found Second Chances intriguing because it felt so real-to-life.


So if the purpose of my stories is to follow a group of my peers, folks to whom I can relate, to learn more about how they deal with the trials and traumas of a particular time of life….what I call the October Years….then I’m satisfied with my result. In the process I try my best to cover both the “people” and the “action” parts of the story. That’s what the best writers want to do. But for me the emphasis will remain on the “people.”


A while back I offered a post titled He Writes What? I ended that piece by admitting that I was “staking my claim in the tiniest slice of the writer’s market.” After all, I am telling relational stories about October persons who are playing out what I call their “Geriatric Adolescence.” Often as not they have come to the game with two strikes against them, and a life-view that is scarcely imaginable to younger readers. Not exactly mainstream, eh?


Yet, though that is still my goal, I also sense something else at work. You see, Suzie was right about Second Chances. The story does begin slowly….though I might debate her “painfully” description. In any case, the story starts that way because instead of teasing the reader with tantalizing hints of a crime, a conflict, or a romantic conquest, I use those first pages to introduce the players and their situations….to set the scene for the very personal stories I will be following for two books and seven hundred pages. 


More precisely, I used the first chapters to prepare my imagined friends for a pivotal fiftieth high-school reunion. I was not ready to move on to their adventures until I (and the reader) knew more about them and what they were dealing with.


So here I am, an admitted amateur, still writing relational stories about old folks. They are indeed “people” oriented stories. I suppose that means the “tiniest sliver of the market” will keep getting smaller. If I wasn’t having so much fun doing what I do I might be tempted to try a different approach. 


But as long as those special October people keep taking me to places I would rarely visit on my own, I’ll keep doing what I do, and try to do it better.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

THERE IS NO GETTING AWAY FROM IT







THERE IS NO GETTING AWAY FROM IT

                   (Originally Posted 9/2009)



When this piece was first posted in 2009 I was seventy-four years old,  twelve years retired, and five years into my storytelling odyssey. By then even vacations seemed to offer little escape from my writing. Reading this again, all these years later, I can see, hidden between the lines, hints of what kept me pursuing my obsession, and where it was taking me. 

And too there were signs of where it was not taking me. From the beginning I was telling the stories I wanted to tell, the ones that kept bubbling to the surface. That much I could control. It was, after all, the part that provided the satisfaction I was seeking…..the part that accounts for the twenty-two books that now sit on my bookshelf. 

On the other hand, whether anyone wanted to read those stories, or buy them, has always been their choice to make…..something beyond my control. Something I don’t fret about. (At least not too much.) 

So it was in the summer of 2009 when Roma and I took a vacation break. What follows are my thoughts from that week at the beach.


********************


Vacation time. The idea was a relaxing get away…..time to think about something other than the normal stuff that fills our everyday lives. It has been a welcome break, just the two of us. Morning fog may hide the surf when we look out from our balcony, yet most afternoons have been just right for long walks on the hard sand next to the breakers. All in all it has been everything a vacation should be.


So why then have I been so easily drawn back to everyday thoughts, the ones I had planned to leave behind for a while? Fact is, of course, there is no way to leave the so-called ‘ordinary’ behind. The mind matter we pack around is too much a part of us to be set aside for even a day or a week.


I don’t know about you, but there are times I wish the mind-full of thoughts and recollections I drag along behind me wasn’t so heavy. If only it was more logical, or in some cases, more worthy? There are parts of it I would like to erase altogether, though I suppose those are the very things I am meant to remember, to learn from, and hopefully avoid the next time.


However, that reservoir of experience has also become a source of raw material…..uniquely personal elements to be sprinkled throughout my stories. How often have I sifted through that overburden of life impressions, looking for bits that illustrate a particular idea or make a necessary point…..looking for possibilities that fit together, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. 


Sometimes it is one of those long-forgotten snippets, perhaps one of those I wish I could forget, that bubbles to the surface, ready to serve my story in some unexpected way. 


Turns out that can happen even when I am on vacation, surrounded by so many attractive diversions…..Her good company, hours of uncharted mind wandering, or a good book. (Interesting how Nuala O’Faolain allowed the embodiment of a long ago dream to find a home in her story.) 


Thankfully, though there’s no computer on hand, I do have a couple yellow writing pads on hand. For a couple days now I have been filling those pages with words that offer the promise of a new story. 


As always, it’s a casual, almost haphazard process…..following an idea where it leads me, hurrying along, trying to keep up with my thoughts. At that point it is not a matter of finding the exact words or perfect metaphors. The purpose is to capture the flow of the story as it arrives, knowing that whole paragraphs, sometimes whole scenes, will eventually be discarded or reworked beyond recognition.


At least for me, that first draft is a time for absorbing the feel of what the story is becoming. Sometimes the ideas come so fast that good ones, at least I think they were, will escape before I put them on paper. 


And it is easy to get sidetracked. If I pause to tweak a sentence before moving on, by the time I return to the story line I may have lost the stream of consciousness, the progression of ideas that I hoped would be my story. At other times I will try to hold a thought that just interrupted the sentence or paragraph I’m finishing. I will promise to return to it in a few seconds. By then, of course, it is gone, lost forever.


Finally, it all comes down to the one question that matters most. Is there really a worthwhile story lurking in all those pages of scribbled notes? How many weeks, one time months, have I spent stalking an idea that eventually led nowhere…..a story that seemed to have no reason to be told?


I take all those bumps in the road as signs that after five years I remain a late-life beginner…..having my fun, stretching my mind, getting my kicks by stringing words and ideas together on paper. Then, taking advantage of today’s incredible technology, I will create a paperback or ebook, hoping that some curious minds in the reading world will find meaning and enjoyment in those words. 


It seems to me a fascinating concept. I launch my stories into the cyberspace of an Amazon Author’s Page, never knowing whom, if anyone, will read them. Still, even at the cost of a disrupted vacation, I count myself fortunate for the chance to do what I find so satisfying.


Anyway, if you’re reading this you can tell that I’ve had too much vacation time on my hands, and/or I have cleaned it up enough to post once I get back to a computer.  

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

ARE YOU THE PERSON YOU WERE MEANT TO BE?




ARE YOU THE PERSON YOU WERE  MEANT TO BE?





A couple days ago I came across an earlier blog post where I  was trying to explain my notion of “thriving” in our October Years. At the time, in my own mental shorthand, I defined thriving as “coming closer to being the person I was meant to be.” 



That in turn led to questions like….Who was I meant to be? Am I thriving now? Should I expect to thrive? Does it even matter one way or the other? I’ll admit that most days I am inclined to forget about all those concerns and settle for being the person I am. Still, those nagging questions won’t go away.


Thriving, of course, is a very personal thing. My thriving won’t look like your thriving. If you’re already a late-life thriver (Is that a word?), chances are you’ve found the proper balance in your life……what works for you. You can look ahead, while remembering the past. You can accept the person you have become, while sometimes hoping to become something more.


Yet from time to time I see, and perhaps you do too, October friends who seem not to be thriving. Perhaps they have been beaten down, or given up. Still, such judgments are fraught with danger. Who has the right to judge such things? Who can say that his or her sort of thriving is the most acceptable kind? Thriving, and the change that often comes with it, are very individual matters. Your change does certainly not have to look like my change.


I’ve written about “change” before in these pages. It seems to me an important part of late-life. It is, after all, still permitted at our age. There are times when it seems that life is an unending chain of choices and adaptations…..in other words…..change. 


Though we ought not judge what change is appropriate for someone else, I am confident that adapting to life’s changing circumstances is an important part of thriving at any age. To use our October/November status as an excuse to stop “Becoming,” is to sell ourselves short. It is a sad thing to see, or write a story about…..a person who believes it is too late to become something more…..that change is not worth the effort at this late date.


One way to integrate change into late-life experience is in the context of a life lived on purpose. Do the concepts of “purpose” or “intention” resonate with you? Have you ever wondered if you have become the person you were meant to be? 


As you may have guessed by now, I’m a Wayne Dyer sort of guy. In Dr. Dyer’s life-view there are no accidents….things happen for a reason. To resist the changes implied by life’s “non-accidents” is akin to resisting our destiny.


As a storyteller I create change in the lives of the characters I have imagined into being. In a hopefully entertaining way I lead them from one place, with its particular circumstances and outlook, to another, hopefully more desirable, place. 


More than once I have used the notion of life’s “intention” to link someone’s beginnings (think childhood and adolescence) to some later October event. In the same way that can happen to each of us, I ask my characters to follow the sometimes twisted chain of change and adaptation to where it leads them.


Take for instance Jack Benz in the following excerpt from Becoming. For fifty years, half a century, he has nurtured his improbable dream of knowing Her. During their high-school days at Tanner Southside High she had been Cindy Welton…social diva, prom queen, and miles out of his league. 


More recently she had been Cynthia Larson….socialite wife, living life in the fast lane. Until, that is, a devastating stroke changed her into someone her husband could no longer love. Now, Jack has come face to face with his nearly unrecognizable high school dream. From the beginning  the odds had been stacked against him….yet he had been willing to stay the course. Was that course ‘meant to be’?


************


They had pulled off into a roadside rest area when Jack took a deep breath and asked himself once more if this was a good idea. A moment later he understood that it was time to come clean…..to let her know the truth of it.

"When I talked to the manager at Eastside Estates,” he began. “He said that if I was even a little bit interested in an Independent Living apartment for the two of us I should put my name on the waiting list. So I did. I signed us up. And we’re number three on the list.”

“Oh my. You are efficient, aren’t you?”

“It was a ‘just-in-case’ kind of thing,” he hurried on. “I told the guy it might never happen. He had no problem with that. So I decided why not. I hope you don’t think I was being too presumptuous.”

Cynthia’s response was slow in coming and nearly lost in her soft laughter. “I’m glad you had a sneaky surprise for me,” she said. “That means I’m not the only one.”

“You have a sneaky surprise too?”

“I think so.” she nodded. “I just hope it won’t shock you too much.”

“Sneaky and shocking?  Man, I need to hear this.”

“Well, it’s this. I was wondering if you could plan to be sick tomorrow?” With her good hand she covered her mouth to stifle a giggle.

“Could I be sick? What kind of question is that? Why?”

“Well, if you were sick, and didn’t have to go to work tomorrow, you could stay here tonight. We could get a room. Maybe I could be your nurse....to help you feel better.”

“A room? For the two of us?”

“Yes.” 

She was offering no smile now, only the serious knowing that there were things to discuss, things to learn about each other. “I think it’s time,” she nodded “Don’t you?”

A moment later Jack was moving on to more practical concerns. “But can you? I don’t want .....”

Clamping her hand lightly over his mouth, she was cutting off his questions. “My doctor told me months ago it was okay. I just never imagined it made any difference.”

“And you want me to stay here tonight? So we can talk about you moving to Tanner…..and other stuff?”

“And 'other stuff,’” Cynthia added before tracking off to other, more mysterious matters. For a few seconds  it felt like he had lost contact with her, until she looked up, ready with a new question.

“Do you really believe that?,” she asked. “What you said at lunch.”

“What did I say?”

“Last night you said that when something is meant to be it will happen, if we give it a chance. Then today, at lunch, you told me that everything is working out just right…..like it is supposed to.” Pausing for a moment, she added, “Is that what you think? That you and I being here right now was meant to be?”

“Meant to be?” Jack blinked at the sound of her words. For an instant it felt as though she had traced his own questions back to their source. He could not remember exactly where he had first read about it…..the idea that there might be anintention,’ a ‘purpose’ behind what he had always assumed to be the random unfolding of his life. It was that possibility that had captured his imagination. 

When viewed from that perspective, perhaps there had been a reason for his years of unremarkable plodding…..a purpose for the way his life had played out. If nothing else, it would help explain the unlikely fact that Cynthia Larson, the late-life incarnation of school-girl Cindy Welton, was seated comfortably beside him, seeking his interpretation of their unexpected, perhaps life-changing connection.

“I’ve read stuff like that,” Jack answered, rolling his eyes, offering a hint of doubt for her benefit. “How everything happens for a reason.

“According to that way of thinking,” he continued. “There is a purpose for everything that happens to us. It’s not just accidental. It means that every person who shows up in our life is there for a reason. We may not know what it is, but it’s important…..otherwise they wouldn’t be there. It also means there can be reasons that we don’t necessarily understand, for things like your stroke and divorce. It might even explain why I’ve been such a pest lately.

“Just think about it.” Shifting in his seat to face her he hurried on, caught up in his not-so-conventional logic. “That day in the sixth grade, when we held hands and didn’t want anyone to see us. I’m not sure you even remember that. But I sure do.

  “Anyway, I’d like to think that happened for a reason. Because, without those few minutes together, more than fifty years ago, we probably wouldn’t be sitting here today, talking about getting old together.”

For a few seconds the sight of the bridge in the distance seemed to have captured Cynthia’s attention. When she finally looked back at him her crooked, but comfortable grin had returned. Was it the soundness of his argument  that had won her attention, she wondered, or the growing hope that he was right? 

“And you think all that happened because we held hands way back then?” she asked softly. “It’s enough to make you think, isn’t it?”

“I’ve asked myself over and over,” Jack continued. “If being with you is just a coincidence. There must have been a million different ways to get from where each of us was that day in the sixth grade to where we are now. It seems to me that you took the high road…..living the good life with Eric, while I bounced along on the low road…..working at my state job and drinking beer with Carl.” 

He had her good hand again, squeezing to make his point. “Our paths were so different, but even with all the twists and turns, your way and my way both led to this exact time and place. 

“That sounds like what Carl calls ‘Becoming.’ He says that everyone, even at our age, is in the process of changing, becoming someone new. That change may be something good. It may be something bad. But no one can stay the same. For you and me it feels like our ‘Becoming’ has brought us right here. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t feel like an accident to me.”

Jack leaned over to kiss her on the cheek. Cynthia was not prepared to settle for that. Seconds later he pushed himself back into his seat, rebuckled his seat belt, and paused to wrap his mind around the improbable truth of it. After years of idle daydreams, Cindy Welton was sitting there beside him, looking forward to his company. 

True, she was no longer the youthful school girl who had first caught his eye. Like him, she had changed. Yet even after her stroke, with her crooked little smile and halting, jagged words, she had never been more appealing. Indeed, he was unwilling to accept those changes as accidental.

“I think we’d better be going,” he finally said, gently nudging her good left arm. “I believe I’m beginning to feel a little under the weather. In fact, I think I’ll probably be needing a nurse.”


You can tell that I’m selling change…..becoming something more…..what I call ‘thriving.’ You may not agree, but I am willing to believe that more than a little October change happens because a small voice is telling us we should keep striving and thriving, growing closer to being the person we were meant to be.