Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 374 (060) Retired and No Time to Shave

How long does it take to shave? Five minutes – maybe ten. Not longer. This morning while walking to a health club my wife noted that I had not shaved for a few days. “I haven’t had time to shave”. I responded.

Imagine; I’m retired. No job. No boss. No alarm clock. No reason. Well, I can’t say that. There is a reason. Whiskers grow regardless of job status and personal choices. Some things we just can’t control. Even when retired.

This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowery.

I like to think that I am master of my life on a daily basis. I determine what my actions are. I like to think that I have mastered the art of moving slowly; enjoying the moment. Retirement affords us that privilege; and it would be a shame to ignore it or let it pass unnoticed.

With only one very brief exception, I have not worked in over twenty five years. I recall no moment during that time that I wondered what to do with my time. I know that this is a major problem for some people. Newspapers, magazines, and acquaintances talk about this, “dilemma” for some. They talk of people who sit in front of the television and loose the glimmer of real life from their eye. They are bored. They can’t seem to do anything.. When it comes to shaving they always have time.

How can I explain the opposite position where life is so full that finding time to shave can be a challenge? This seems particularly paradoxical since I lay claim to being an existentialist. Yes, I hold to the absurdity of life. Living with the knowledge that I, and everyone else, is going to die; that it will all end. The books, the music, the art, the thought; let alone the buildings, the technology, and the grave stones – it will all disappear. Time and evolution, or change, will eventually pass us by. It is one of those things like whiskers, beyond our control.

This is where the absurd portion of this existentialism comes to play - in our acceptance of this state. We accept the reality of our ultimate hopelessness and then give meaning to life through our own choice. We choose to give life meaning – sort of a, “leap of faith”.  We make our moments count. We give meaning to our hours; our days; our actions. We believe it even though we know it is a lie. It’s the only solution that made any sense to me. What does one choose? What ever you would like. Write novels, garden, watch television, play cards, or go sailing. That is the answer; simple, yet hard to accept. The hard part, as so well illustrated in the Myth of Sisyphus is to, “love your rock”.

Perhaps you remember the Myth of Sisyphus from Geek mythology Sisyphus defies the Gods. He promises one thing to the Gods and then doesn't follow through. He tries to put Death in chains. He tries to be beat the system. The Gods don't like this so they condemn him to pushing a large rock up a hill every morning only to have it roll back down each night for eternity. His punishment is to know the futility of life. What can he do? We can only imagine that he learns to love his rock as he presses his check against it every morning. It might be his only salvation: to love his fate.

So what does all of this have to do with shaving – and retirement. Of course I have time to shave. It is a matter of making that choice. I will make good choices sometimes and wrong on others. It is when I choose wrong that concerns me. That is when suffering enters the picture.

And that is the key to shaving – and everything else. You choose weather to like it or not. And there-in lays our only way to some sort of triumph. We can choose to love our fate or hate it. But, we must accept it.  I use to tell my students that when I made certain demands on them in the class – a test, an essay, a report, etc. - that they could choose to like them or hate them, but they must accept them. They could always be honest to themselves. It was their decision.

I could be wrong about all of this. I remember seeking knowledge in Katmandu many years ago from a Swami. After reading Buddhist and Hindu writings and listening to the great guru, I explained this existential position to him and he told me it was, “enlightenment”. I was astounded at his pronouncement. I never expected this response. I eventually came to modify my enthusiasm. I came to believe that “enlightenment” meant, “what ever works for you”. I know it sounds corny but … We in the west like to think that the answers to the truth lie just over there – you know – somewhere else; if we could just…find it. But when I had a chance to go over there, I did. And when I had a chance to examine the “truth over there” I did. The good swami may have been validating only the existential position but I wonder.

The key is to find a philosophy that works for you and then go out and, “chop wood, and carry water”. I’m not sure the swami would require the, “absurdity” portion of the explanation. He would be more interested in just settling the mind. As soon as you’re done with that - you might choose to shave.  Then again...

This is retirement talk.






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