(Erin Otwell/ The Free Press)

One Life. Five Wives.

Plus: Moving to Montana, and learning to love bees. Introducing the three runners-up to our Senior Essay Contest.

By The Free Press

December 26, 2023

Earlier this year, we announced our first-ever essay contest for high school students, asking them to describe a problem troubling American society and how they would fix it. More than 400 teenagers entered, writing about social media, porn, high school bullies, and more. It was a smashing success, and you can read the winning essay here

After all that, we thought it only fair to pass the mic to the older generation. This October, we asked readers aged 70 and up to tell us a story about an event that shaped their lives and helped bring them wisdom or a fresh perspective. 

Once again we had more than 400 submissions, this time from 47 states—hey, Alaska, Vermont, and Nevada, reach out next time!—and 10 countries, including the UK, Australia, South Korea, Italy, South Africa, and China. 

Ilan Chaim from Jerusalem wrote about fighting in the Six-Day War. 

Jo Ann Jennings from Kansas wrote about joining the Peace Corps after dreaming about it for fifty years. 

Bill Hankins from Cordele, Georgia, submitted a beautiful poem. One poignant line read: Peace will begin when expectation ends. 

We have spent weeks sifting through all of the entries, which contained the kind of profound wisdom and wit that can be accrued only over time. Today, we announce our three runners-up:

(From L to R) Joan McCaul, Cheri Block Sabraw, and Jonathan Rosenberg.

First, we have Joan McCaul, a 74-year-old living in Queensland, Australia. She is a retired teacher who enjoys films, her children and grandchildren, and spending time in her garden. In her beautiful essay, she reflects on the wisdom we might miss out on if we don’t slow down and listen—especially to our children. 

Cheri Block Sabraw is a 73-year-old living in Montana. She taught writing for 26 years and founded her own academy at 48. She has a master’s degree and wrote a thesis on W. G. Sebald’s novel Austerlitz. Her hobbies include oil painting, writing, and walking. In her essay, she writes about the mayhem and chaos of everyday life, and describes how there is a way out. And it is, in fact, quite lovely. 

Finally, Jonathan Rosenberg, 72, is a playwright and producer living in San Diego, California. His most recent musical, East Carson Street, will have its world premiere at Bell Works in Holmdel, New Jersey, in May 2024. In his essay, he writes about finding The One after four failed marriages.   

We are humbled and honored that so many of you chose to share your stories with us. Stay tuned for the winning essay tomorrow—and tell us about your own hard-won wisdom in the comments. 

Tomorrow, we’ll announce the winner of our contest. And if you want to support our mission of publishing writers both young and old, become a Free Press subscriber today:

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