Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 052 Retirement and Freedom

We just returned from a day trip – 4hours, to the Sakgit Valley; beautiful fall day, little to no traffic, two friends, and a walk on a dike out across the flat fertile valley surrounded by the sea to the west and the Cascade Mountain Range to the east: hawks making lazy patterns low over the fields, fishermen taking King Salmon from the Samish River. Quiet. A delicious lunch in a tiny bakery in the little town of Edison; a slow prowl of a couple of art galleries. The town is small and the trust is so great that there wasn’t anyone in the art galleries. I guess if you see something you want you have to scrounge around and fine someone who will take your money.  Home by 3 in the after noon for a nap followed by the daily trip to the coffee shop. Now that is freedom. That is retirement.

This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowery.

“Freedom” that is a word that is often used in conjunction with retirement.  “Wouldn’t it be nice to take a day trip and enjoy a leisurely lunch”? Wouldn’t it be great to go south in the winter”?  “Lay on the beach”. Wouldn’t it be great to be – you fill in the blank. And that is just it. This word, “freedom”, it means something different to everyone. At least it does in my mind – when I really think about it.

A friend recently suggested that do a podcast about what freedom means to me in relationship to retirement.  I started to think about it and the task became more and more clouded.

I use to think free meant being able to do whatever one wanted - whenever one wanted. It was something guaranteed to people of this nation in the Declaration of Independence. Freedom was something grand. Freedom was something people died for. Freedom was something we had and everyone else wished they did. It was strictly a grade school concept.

Later I came to understand that none of us were really free, but were limited by time and space – I’m stuck in this century – I can’t be a knight in shinny armor or a cowboy in the wild west. Limited by our genetic makeup – I am not going to be a star in the NBA or a Kentucky Derby wining jockey. I am limited by the economic conditions of my time – I am not going to homestead a 160 acres. I am not going to be a victim of the mine closing or the factory moving to China. I’m retired.

In light of all of these limitations, I must admit to limited freedom. This doesn’t mean that freedom is not important to me. I am free to choose from many options as to the make-up of the remainder of my life. I can choose to play golf, the guitar, or bridge. I can choose to travel the land in an RV or become a grower of dahlias and never leave my yard. 

I just heard on the CBC a story of an orphanage in Mexico that needs help constructing a home for kids. Their home was washed away in a hurricane. I could take a hammer and go down there this winter. Freedom means that I could choose to go.

I think that what we retired people really want is the same thing we have always wanted. We want to reaffirm ourselves in our daily lives. We want to have a way of self-actualization. We want to matter. We want to be able to choose. What I would choose might be far from what my neighbor would choose. That is fine. What it is that we choose really doesn’t make a difference. What makes for the beauty of retirement is the, “freedom to choose”. We are no longer bound by limitations of occupation, career, status, mortgage payments, or young children. Generally, we are freer that we have ever been.

Some folks seem to have difficulty with this freedom. Retirement just doesn’t suite them. They hesitate to choose. They linger. They retreat. They struggle with all of their waking hours. They refuse to choose.

The old adage that, “We are free only in so far as we know we are free” keeps rising up in my mind. Some retired folks make choices and act. I guess there is a time to think and then there is a time to act. The retired stage of life gives this added importance. I keep thinking about that old woman dressed in black and sitting on a porch in Greece. As we followed that walking funeral procession down this narrow street in a small village ensconced in our American Express, air conditioned, tinted window bus, she sat in a rocking chair watching the world pass by. The image is yet vivid in my mind’s eye. It has been over 30 years. I’ve always wondered if she was happy.  I wonder if she had choices to make and made them. Perhaps her choice was to sit still - and consider the lilies of the field.

This is Retirement Talk.



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