Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 442(194) Kicking Back Without Guilt

A coffin floated down the road in front of me. Six guys dressed in black were carrying it. Probably fifty people or so walked slowly behind. I was inside a big American Express bus. We were in rural Greece on our way to Epidaurus, an ancient Greek theater to see a play by Euripides. We slowed and followed the procession at a respectful distance until they turned off the road into a cemetery.

This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowery. This is a revised edition of an earlier episode entitled "Retirement and Guilt"

An older woman with gray hair and dressed in black sat on the front porch of her small cottage near the road. She sat in a straight back chair and had a front row seat of the procession. We were 15 Americans and Europeans dressed in shorts, t-shirts and sunglasses. We were ensconced in this huge air conditioned bus with leather seats, tinted windows and a bathroom on board thousands of miles from home. What were we looking for?

My vision of this funeral procession and this woman has never faded. I can see it as if it happened yesterday though over thirty years have now passed. I have always imagined that this woman and the person in the coffin had never ventured far from this small rural village. We, by contrast, seemed born to ramble. We worshiped traveling. We wanted to see more; take more pictures, eat exotic foods and drink local wines. The woman dressed in black sitting on her small porch in this tiny village had the look of contentment on her face. Of course, I don’t know if she was content, but she had that look and I like to think that she was.

My education and culture have taught me very little about the benefits of sitting still. Many of us approach retirement with the idea that we must keep busy. We must continue to be “active” and for us that means moving. We must get a part time job, volunteer at the hospital, golf or travel around the world.

Whenever I'm introduced to people one of their first question is "do you travel a lot." When I respond with, "I try not too. I sure don't want to travel". They seemed puzzled. They search and  stumble over their response. I am retired I should want to travel. Not that there is something inherently wrong with travel. It is just that for me there are other activities that take priority.

What is to be said for sitting down, enjoying life’s moments, breathing deeply, walking the beach or just rocking back in forth in the old chair that sits on the porch. What is to be said for those that truly do wish to “let go”

One of my favorite quotes from Thoreau goes something like this, “As I lie, idly drifting on Walden Pond, I cease to think and begin to be”. These words give me pause for thought now just as they did over fifty years ago when I first came across them. We have all had those moments when we lay on our back in the grass and gaze at the clouds and the world seems right. We don’t feel guilty and we don’t have any urge to move.

“Why don’t you get up and do something with your life”, my Dad used to say. My sophomore English teacher required that we memorize these lines from a Longfellow poem-

Let us then be up and doing,

With a heart of any fate:

Still achieving, still pursuing,

Learn to labor and to wait.

These two ideas were burned into my brain. When violated they caused a giant case of guilt to well up inside. Work became the elixir of life. When retirement came along a major adjustment was needed. It seems to be that way with many people.

We retired early in life. We did not intend to work again – not at a job. We wanted to do something different with our lives. Twenty-eight years have passed and we have held true to our goal with one or two very brief exceptions.

We have had an active retirement meaning we have done many different things over the years and continue to do so. However, ideas and habits established in our youth are hard to shake. But we have learned to modify them a great deal. We have learned to slow down. Our mind and our body- even our heart beat. Not completely stop but at least slow down.

I recall a friend of mine in Alaska advice who was a hunter/fisherman type of guy. He was an old timer and spent his time in the mountains and bush. One time before I was to set off on a cross county ski camping trip over some mountains he left me with the admonition: “Remember, if you want to get there quick, you’d better slow down”.  The country and space was so big that it would literally kill you if you rushed.

I think of Buddha sitting under the Boa Tree. I think of that woman sitting on her porch and sometimes I just want to lie drifting on Walden Pond and cease to think and begin to be. No guilt attached.

This is Retirement Talk with something to think about.

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