Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Retirement: What Good is It?

Retirement.  It’s an odd condition of life.  I’m a little over three years into it, and learning something new about it each day.  With a little planning and a lot of dumb luck, I was ready to retire at 65 and did.
What first struck me remains the most unsettling part of it, and that is its irregularity.  Regularity, and you can skip the bathroom jokes, begins on our first day of school, with occasional breaks for holidays and vacations.  Like many others, as soon as I was able, my summers and winter holidays were filled with jobs.  I worked behind a drugstore soda fountain and then pumped gas at a Texaco station.  One year I was a recreation supervisor at a local park.  My last two undergraduate years combined a full class load with almost forty hours of work.  The day after I graduated from college was the day I began my career in government and business with more education thrown in.  Thirty years later I took a break to enter seminary and went on to serve congregations through ordained ministry.  Every one of those years was filled with days, weeks and months that fell into a more or less predictable rhythm of regular expectation.  Of course there were times away, unstructured times of rest, but even they were regulated by rules of one kind or another, mostly around how much vacation I had earned and when I could take it.
I didn’t mind that.  It was the rhythmic nature of it that gave me opportunity to plan for moments that were my own to do with as I pleased.  Retirement changed that.  One person told me that in retirement every day is Saturday.  It doesn’t really work that way, but it took some getting used to.  We can go out and stay up late in the middle of the week.  There are a multitude of days in which nothing particular needs to be accomplished.  I’m heavily involved in my community and the church, but as a volunteer, which means I can say no any time I want, and no one can threaten to take away my paycheck.  Just the same, and three years into it, I still feel that sense of urgency that Saturday is a day for errands and must do chores.  I still feel a little giddy, and slightly guilty, about going out on a Saturday night with little concern for getting up at 5:00 a.m. to prepare for Sunday at church.  
My wife has accused me of being the most unretired retired person she knows because of the obligations I have agreed to take on in the community and for the diocese.  Sometimes I think she might be onto something, and partly because of the irregularity of the demands they make. They don’t come in the predictable flow of a weekly schedule, but in lumps of overwhelming consumption of time and energy followed by a near complete absence for weeks on end. 
On the other hand, and there is one, we now feel free to take long trips to places we’ve always wanted to visit.  Two weeks each year in our favorite getaway place can now be stretched to a month or even two.  Thanks to my workout routine at the Y, I’m in better physical shape than I have been for years.  My habit of Morning Prayer that was once jammed into a half hour early in the morning can now take hours, drifting into reading or writing, or even just thinking.  Afternoon naps are wonderful treats.  I’m learning the art of just messing around: in the garden, in the garage, fixing things, experiencing the community in new ways, even doing Saturday chores on other days.
Would I want to go back to the well regulated life of a working man?  Not a chance.  The irregularity of retired life may be unsettling at times, but I’ve come to treasure that, and delight in the freedom it has brought.  In some ways it has restored a little childlike joy in life, and that’s not bad, especially for a person who struggles a bit with what I prefer to call a touch of melancholy now and then.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a fellow retired person, I can relate to and identify with every-thing you say! When I moved here right after I retired, I made sure to get a home with enough extra land around it to make sure that I would have to be physically active, as I am lazy by nature and did not want to let myself sit around reading all my time (I could have added "watching TV", but I have never been as fond of that even in the evening, much less in the "wasteland" (as Newton Minnow once called it) of daytime talk shows.) Now, of course, with less energy than I once had, I do fall behind on all the mowing and weeding that my ambition saddled me with! I can't even keep up with all the magazines I get in the mail,and have to learn to skim and skip. The "melancholy" you spoke of I do suffer from, but always have before this!too. Dr B