Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 514 Golden

This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowery.

I've entitled this episode Golden.

A few years ago I somehow started to chat with this old guy in our local coffee shop. His name was 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 89 years old.

He taught Literature at Western Washington University for 40 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 sparkled when he told me that retirement has been good. Prostrate cancer and macular degeneration  now had him in their grips. Golden was slowing down. His hands shook. He moved slowly. But there was a time when he moved easily across the college campus. He read books and explored them with students in class rooms with windows thrown open and fall colored leaves shimmering on the common.

When he retired he took to wandering. He met other travelers in busy train stations. They shared wine and stories. On one trip he met a guy in a train station and they agreed to meet again in a one year in another country in another train station. They did this for several years. Life was exciting. Retirement had been good.

I don’t want to travel. I do – travel that is. But it is not high on my list of wants. One of our reasons for choosing to retire in the Pacific Northwest 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 – several times, Asia, and Africa. Years ago 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. But it is different than what I would have experienced in my younger days. It is still rewarding - but it isn't the same.  

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 almost overwhelming. It is hard to make that choice.  Perhaps that is why many of us don’t do much. We just can't choose. It is easiest not to choose but just continue as we are. 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. We seem to be immobilized by over-choice.

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.

The problem isn’t so much 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've read the play and seen the play several times. It is always gut wrenching and rewarding.

I have a friend down in the neighborhood who retired over several years ago and has suffered ever since. 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. Eventually his health forced him to sit. He did that with a warm cup of coffee and stories of choices made and days gone by. We should all be so lucky. Golden died a couple of years ago. I miss him.

This is Retirement Talk with something to think about.




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