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!
What wonderful stories. Thanks for sharing. Is there a way to access these columns online? I would like to read them all.
Here is the latest: http://www.islandsweekly.com/news/234256591.html
Because of your comment, I just tried to access an archive of Senior Spotlight columns, but the ones at the bottom of this article are really old, and written by someone else. I am going to write to the paper to see if they can create an archive organized by dates. (Duh!) So, thank you, Melissa, for giving me the idea to check!
maybe the word “senior” has already a bad connotation. That’s like the word for a simple toilett has changed in public buildings over my time in the US from restroom to powderroom to i don’t know what….. (you neither rest nor powder there!) Seniors is already a step further from old folks or retirees! Maybe you should look for “wise” or “experienced” people? 😉
Words of Wisdom, perhaps? Thanks for the idea, Monika.
I’m 65 and I hate being referred to as a senior (unless I am getting a discount at a restaurant or movie theater). The problem is that fifty years ago when people did not live as long, 65 was old. Now people are dying at eighty and ninety so 65 is almost middle aged. Right?
Right! So…Middle-aged Musings, perhaps? 🙂
Gretchen, you’re doing a marvelous job with this column. I agree the title isn’t a good fit; when I had a stint writing it, I fretted over it, too, but never came up with an alternative. Your post inspired one idea: “Sage Stories.” Regardless of the heading, your profiles are a gift to us all. Thank you for writing them.
Ooh, I love this! I’m going to run this by Cali, see what she thinks. Way to go, Iris!
call them seasoned explorers!
Thank you, Leslie. Seasoned, definitely. Not sure about the explorers…that would only apply to some. Seasoned sages, maybe?
Love this post! And you’re right, labels can be tricky can’t they? I use midlife enthusiast. There’s also In my prime (for midlife) and fully ripened (seniors). Our bodies might now cooperate past our forties or fifties, but damn! We know what LIFE is.
Love the concept of ripeness…as long as I can ignore the phase that follows it. 🙂 but I guess that’s kind of the point, eh…all a natural cycle.