Retirement dreams are popular commodities among us 70 year-olds. Let’s see: I should take a cruise, visit family in other states and other countries, write that novel, and walk the dogs more (all of us wagging more than barking as befits the sedate wisdom of our advancing years).
Perhaps I’ll take a retreat and cultivate a wider perspective on life, now that the racing whirligig of livelihood and parenting—those meeting grounds of insufficient skill and implacable situations–have slipped off center.
But somehow my plans for a graceful denouement before the final phase of life don’t seem to be measuring up to the brochures.
For instance, a few weeks ago, we discovered when we showed up for a long-awaited medical appointment, that our family’s health insurance had been cancelled two months previously. The Federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM)—which has no functioning phone system for retirees to call—failed to record our correct information last November, couldn’t be reached for seven months, and then finally just cancelled our insurance without telling us. To quote Billy Pilgrim, “and so it goes”.
And what about that novel, which would have been my third? Well, I started working on a new book and had even penned a few hundred pages (to be honest they were more about my plans for a new novel than the coming to life of a story—more like wedding plans than a marriage of vision and embodiment). After a while, I noticed that I was not enjoying the process and I just put it away.
‘My novel’ was to have been about how large corporations threaten the natural world, on which all planetary life depends. In particular, the evil empire in my time/space opera was a Mansanto Corp look-a-like (renamed Manger Corp—thereby embellishing both the Christian iconography of “Santo” and making explicit the ‘food trough’ corporate claim that they are ‘feeding a hungry world’).
But ‘angry ranting doth not a good story make’, and I have ‘retired’ to writing this weekly blog, spending more time with family (including the dogs), and aspiring to a “wider perspective on the meaning of life”.
Listening to the wind in the trees, feeling the rain as it blows in on its coat tails, those extra bowls of ice cream allow me to feel like a rock weathering life’s tempests.
But as a friend sometimes observes in the face of life’s inconvenient events: “it’s all in divine order”. After all it’s better not to have a medical emergency than to have had to pay privately for one if there had been (BTW our health plan was reinstated, after our congress woman got involved).
The truth is that not having to write another novel is a relief. Instead of using all those hours and perplexed brain cells to compose life histories for invented characters, now I can work on my own.
I’m gradually realizing that it’s OK to be retired if that allows me to uncouple from some of those external task masters (including tasks I assign myself) which compete to commandeer my waking hours.
Looking with new eyes, perhaps I will find myself in the presence of a new world—one that has always been here.
I recall a few lines from a poem I read many years ago, entitled “Lost”. I think it was included in an anthology of Native American writing, and it went something like this:
Stand very still and look around you.
The trees are not lost.
Let them find you.
And so it goes. But something makes that going possible, and that something never leaves.
Those bowls of ice cream are better when embellished with chocolate sauce, walnuts and fresh raspberries.
Lovely post, Michael. A wonderful reminder that we don’t have to keep driving ourselves in directions that become random or unfulfilling. Living a simple life is a gift. Enjoy it!
Sharon, Thank you for your embellishments on my ice cream retirement practice. I am not unaware that–as the author of several Southwest cuisine cook books–you might have charged me a professional fee for this adice. I will be sure to think of you when I am piling on the walnuts, fresh raspberries and cholocate sauce.
Is it still true that if I only eat half a quart of ice cream it will be calorie free? Or does that only hold for baked goods?
Thank you for your comments, Laurie
As the host of “Aging Reimagined” (weekly interviews on KSFR, Tuesdays at 4:00 PM) your thoughts on the landscape that opens up upon retirement definitely carry weight. And I suspect it’s a weightiness that reflects a lifelong engagement with the community, more than any particular brand of icecream (with or without the chocolate sauce).