I have a small dilemma. I’m charged with writing our local paper’s monthly column, “Spotlight on Seniors,” and it’s time to find a new
Here’s the problem: the name. Some of our community’s most interesting over-65 year-olds don’t relish being labeled “Senior.”
Maybe that attitude explains their lives. In the past two years since I’ve taken on this gig (unpaid, unfortunately, but I decided that the workout of regularly muscling entire lives into 800 words was payment enough) I have interviewed 19 men and women. 17 of them, when asked, protested, “Oh, but I’m really not that interesting,” or words to that effect. But all 19 turned out to be equally, if differently, fascinating.
Some stories are dramatic: the woman who decided to ditch her family and climb a Himalayan peak when she turned 50. The man whose equations helped the Apollo 13 astronauts make their way safely back to Earth. The woman who sailed around the world with her husband and wrote a book about it.
Some are poignant: the man whose wife died in her sleep, next to him. The woman who brings our local EMTs cookies twice a month ever since they helped her dying husband, two years ago. The man whose wife left him with two young kids, who told me, simply, “The church helped me.”
But all the stories provide me, and thus my readers, a glimpse of a life never seen. For some, that glimpse entails real information never before shared publicly, like the man who related how he deserted his first wife and baby, 56 years ago. For others, it provides a softer side to someone the community has pigeonholed as gruff and grumpy, like my interviewee who explained, in heart-rending monosyllables, why he chooses to care for his wife with dementia. Such glimpses both assume and strengthen a trust in me, and in fellow community members, that I find completely humbling. My writing gig has turned out to be a real honor.
These folks aren’t just “Seniors,” any more than I am just “middle-aged.” (For the record: I’ve tried to come up with a less “baggagey” way to describe someone who’s at least halfway through her life…no luck. Let me know if you have a better term!) They are People With Stories.
Too bad the column isn’t called People With Stories. Unless…can anyone think of a snappy, alliterative way to say that? Have you had a similar experience talking to someone you thought at first might be mundane? Please share!