I have a friend who says, “Yeah but, you’re retired,” as if retired people did nothing, had no lives. It made me think, what do retired people do? I know a few (since I know only a few people…) and most of them (us?) are pretty busy most of the time. I’m less busy than most just because I had enough of busy teaching 7 classes, working a clerical job and driving to hell and back.
I remember a summer during that period when I had no classes. During the economic crisis of 2009, I had five weeks off. I did not leave my yard and house except to shop. I was about as reclusive as it is possible to be. I was tired, wrung out, finished. My batteries needed recharging for the coming fall semester and whatever hell was in store for me in the school year 2009-2010. There was plenty but it got even worse. Nothing like taking money away from a university to make it change its priorities.
During most of my working life, I didn’t think I would ever retire. I liked what I was doing and my life seemed full of purpose and meaning. I didn’t anticipate that would ever change, that the lustre would ever fade from teaching, and I was surprised when it did. Now I think it will take the rest of my life to fully recharge my batteries.
What do I DO? As little as possible, frankly. That is, I keep outside demands on my time and life to a minimum. I was happy to turn my calendar page to October (yeah paper wall calendar…) and see there was NOTHING on it, no doctor appointments, no events, nothing. Just reminders to set out my recycling bin every other Wednesday. I think this is the best part of retirement. Back in the day, if I looked at a Saturday (much of my career I taught on Saturdays) and saw it had NOTHING going on and no mountain of papers to grade, I felt a deep sense of freedom, just to have one day. Now I have a lot of these Saturdays.
My priorities have turned to the things I had to squeeze into the moments between teaching and driving — writing and walking the dogs, and, hopefully, not too far from now, real mountain hikes. Plus like a lot of people, as I got into my mid-fifties, the booby-traps in my “corporeal self” began going off. I think when we retired people complain about health problems, besides complaining about the discomfort, we are complaining about the betrayal. “I can’t be myself anymore! Time, you fucker, you took me away from me!”
I am not (outwardly) the lithe and spry rock-jumping trail running magenta-haired maniac I was until my early 50s, but I often look out at the world through her eyes. You learn stuff along the way that you need when you retire. In my teaching years, I learned a lot about patience, my actual size in the universe, the things that make me happiest –wind, light through trees, snowy mountains in the distance (they are something else close up) –the importance of goals, whether you reach them or not, the appreciation of small, beautiful moments.