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Episode 137 Retirement’s Many Roads

Golden is the first name of a recent coffee shop acquaintance. “Golden. How did you get that name”, I asked. “My father was always looking for gold when he was a young man living in southern Idaho,” he replied. “There wasn’t any gold where we were living and he never found any. So, when I was born they named me Golden because I was the most valuable thing he had ever had.” Golden smiled. He likes the name. Golden is 87 years old today.

This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowery.

Golden taught Literature at Western Washington University for 50 years. He retired when he was 69. Traveling became the focus of his life upon retirement. He traveled alone most of the time: Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. At age 80 he ran the Chuckanut Footrace Race which is a run of  7 miles. His eyes sparkle when he tells me that retirement has been good. Prostrate cancer and macular degeneration have now got him in their grips. Golden is slowing down. He shakes. He moves slowly. But, there was time when he moved easily across the college campus, he read books and talked about them with students in class rooms with windows thrown open and fall colored leaves shimmering in the distance. He met other travelers in busy train stations. They shared wine and stories. They agreed to meet again in a one year in another country at another train station. Life was exciting. Retirement has been good.

I don’t want to travel. I do – travel that is. But it is not high on my list of wants. When we chose to live in the Pacific Northwest one of our reasons was that we would not have to travel far to experience – a foreign country, mountains, salt water, forests or wilderness areas, large cities,  or major universities. Another reason travel is not high on my list is that we did travel while we lived in Alaska. We traveled a lot; Europe – many times, Asia, and Africa. I remember seeing older people disembark from tour buses at Alyeska, a ski resort just south of Anchorage. They walked slowly and not very far. They came to see Alaska but they were pretty much confined by age or health to stay pretty close to the bus, the lodge or the restaurant. They really didn’t get into the back country. They didn’t get to experience the same Alaska I did. I didn’t want to wait for my traveling days until the experience would be so very limited. Perhaps limited is the wrong word. I have traveled in my retirement years and the experience is still rich and rewarding. It is different than what I would have experienced in my younger days, but still, it is rewarding.

Returning to thoughts of Golden, he traveled in retirement and loved it. I think about all of the different roads one may choose to take in retirement and it is humbling. It is hard to make that choice.  Perhaps that is why many of us don’t do much. A certain comfort comes from routine. We know what to expect. We know where we will sleep, where we will eat, where and when we will take a nap, and where we will have dinner or go out for coffee. There are lots of choices but we tend to establish routines.

Sometimes I wonder at my own choices in retirement. Perhaps I am limited by lack of imagination. I have chosen to do this or that with my life, but there all of those other possibilities that have thus been eliminated. One could choose to travel, grow dahlias, watch television, go sailing, study native plants, explore your genealogy or write your memoirs. The roads are many.

I sometimes think the real problem isn’t in choosing one thing and then regretting not choosing something else. The problem is in choosing: the act of committing to one direction or another. “Waiting for Godot”, the great play by Becket illustrates the real predicament. The play drives home the absurdity of not making a decision and remaining stuck in one place. The two main characters carry on an endless discussion of whether the answer to their making a choice will come today or if they should just get up and choose which way to go. They wait. And they wait. It is worth a read if you haven’t already done so. I think I will put it on my list of books to reread.

I have a friend down the street that retired over a year ago and has suffered one hard year. He can’t make up his mind about retirement. He can’t do anything. He wanders around as if in a daze. His choices are unlimited. He has health, money and time. He could choose any one of so many directions to go. But, he remains seated. It would be okay to remain seated if that is the road one chooses. The problem comes when that is a default position. “Should we go, or should we stay”, Becket poses the question so well. As the old saying goes, “Sometimes you just have to take the bull by the horns”.

Time ticks. Golden had his choices to make and made them. Health now forces him to sit. He does that with a warm cup of coffee and fond memories of days gone by. We should all be so lucky.