Episode 367(052) Retirement and Freedom
We just returned from a four hour day trip – the Sakgit Valley; beautiful fall day, little to no traffic, two friends, picking and eating wild black berries as we walked on a dike beside a salmon stream across a 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. Free.
Then 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 afternoon for a nap followed by our daily stroll to the coffee shop. Now that is freedom. That is retirement.
This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowery.
Freedom is one of those loaded words. It is good. We want it. We don't often find people speaking in favor of taking away our freedom. We want freedom from government, freedom from corporate dominance, freedom from societal pressure. We also want freedom from sickness, freedom from hunger, freedom from poverty and freedom from want.
A friend recently suggested that I do a podcast about what freedom means to me in relationship to retirement. The more I thought about it the more clouded the task became.
I use to think free meant being able to do whatever one wanted - whenever one wanted. Strictly a grade school concept.
Later I came to understand that none of us were absolutely free. Of course we are limited by time and space – we stuck in this century – I can’t be a knight in shinny armor or a cowboy in the wild west. We are 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. Nor am I going to be a victim of the mine closing or the factory moving to China. I’m retired.
In light of these and similar factors I must accept my limited freedom. 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 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. I know one guy who is doing that very thing.
We retired people really want the same thing we have always wanted. We want to affirm 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 it is that we choose really doesn’t matter. The beauty of retirement is the enhanced “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 have difficulty with this freedom. Retirement just doesn’t suite them. We hesitate to choose. They linger. They retreat. They struggle all of their waking hours. They refuse to choose. Of course it is not easy to think and then act. We are faced with a similar dilemma when we are children standing in a candy store and told by our parents we can have only one piece of candy. It isn't a comfortable moment. Luckily our parents force us to choose and act. Retirement does have the extra difficulty of not having anyone standing at our side insisting that we choose and act.
This is where Nietzsche's philosophy resonates. He encourages us to step out on the edge and take a risk. He encourages us to break ourselves in two and become something greater than that which we are. Retirement offers us this opportunity. We are free in so very many ways.
The old adage, “We are free only in so far as we know we are free” takes on enhanced meaning. Some retired folks make choices and act. We have time to think and we have time to act. I made a list of what was important to me when I retired: what I wanted to do. That was 27 years ago. I have completed everything on that list. I've lived longer than I thought I would.
The retired stage of life certainly offers us this opportunity. I keep thinking about that old woman dressed in black and sitting on a porch. You may recall and earlier podcast when I told of following this walking funeral procession down a narrow street in a small village in Greece. I was ensconced in an American Express, air conditioned, tinted window bus. She sat in a rocking chair on her porch watching the world pass by as well as the funeral. The image is yet so very vivid in my mind’s eye. It has been over 40 years. I’ve always wondered if she was happy. I wonder if she had had choices to make and made them. I like to think that her choice was to sit still - and consider the lilies of the field. If that was the case I admire her resolve.
This is Retirement Talk.