Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Spring Sorting

Yes, I am still sorting. Once is not enough apparently. Just as cleaning my closet of clothes that no longer fit my body, my lifestyle, or my imagination needs to be done periodically; sorting in the rest of my life is an ongoing process as well. Here is what I have learned during my most recent sorting process: Surprise! I am retired.

I didn't know that's what happened when we moved here from Ohio. I just assumed I would continue to do in some fashion what I was doing there--some spiritual direction, some teaching, some facilitating of groups. I didn't know I was retiring without the gold watch, the pension, the farewell tea for this year's class of retirees. I didn't set a retirement date and count the days till it arrived. But here I am, RETIRED, a by-product of moving here so my husband could accept a challenging and exciting position and so we could live closer to our Minnesota family. No regrets, but I am amazed at my cluelessness about what this would mean for me.
In fact, a friend expressed surprise that I didn't recognize this change in my life, since I am a person who seems to be in constant reflection. It wasn't that I resisted the word. I simply did not recognize the obvious. Instead, I have been trying all this time to find a pat phrase for the question, "What do you do?"

For the first year or so I tried answering by stating what I did in my former life. "When we lived in Ohio I had a small private practice in spiritual direction, and I worked part time for a support organization for those touched by cancer." It was awkward, but it worked for awhile. However, now I have been here for over two years and speaking with tongues of the past no longer works. Frankly, it's not even that I am asked that often (Shouldn't that in itself be another clue, along with the fact that the AARP magazine shows up in our mailbox?) and if I am asked, I can slip easily into a conversation about things I am doing and like to do without too much stumbling. I refer to participating in a writing group and a book group/class or volunteering in the bookstore at the arboretum or attending a centering prayer class at Holy Wisdom Monastery. "Did you know they have the greenest building in the US?," I say, and successfully change the focus of the conversation. Oh, and, of course, there are the grandkids to bring into the conversation.

Obviously, I need to come to terms with the word "retired." I think there is intense pressure on my generation, even in our retirement, to do great things. "So what are you doing now that you are retired?" Golfing, sleeping late, and reading romance novels is not a good enough answer. We are expected, it seems, to respond with a passion, a dedication to a cause, a discovery of a new talent, or even commitment to a new career. Have you noticed how many books there are on the topic?. I have a few of them myself.

Leap! What Will We Do with the Rest of Our Lives? by Sara Davidson

Claiming Your Place at the Fire, Living the Second Half of Your Life on Purpose by Richard J. Leider and David A. Shapiro

The Third Chapter, Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50 by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot (EEEK! I only have 13 more years before that book has no more relevance for me!)

Inventing the Rest of Our Lives, Women in Second Adulthood, What Matters, What Works, What's Next by Suzanne Braun Levine

Creating a Spiritual Retirement, A Guide to the Unseen Possibilities in Our Lives by Molly Strode.

I am tempted to answer the retirement question by saying, "My goal is to read all the books on retirement." I know there is good advice in these books, reflections that resonate with me, and spiritual practices that will enrich and enhance my life in the 60's and beyond and perhaps it is a good sign that I have these books on my shelf already. I'll go back and reread what I have underlined already.

What I am beginning to realize is that the filling up, the testing and trying, the believing that the next big thing is just around the corner has not been all that successful. I find myself stuck in what was, what is not, and too permeated with it all to just BE. I am not sure what that will look like, but I hope to ease from Spring Sorting to Summer Savoring.


  1. Thank you, Nancy. I read, I teared up, I laughed, I laughed again, I teared up. Not necessarily in that order. Now, I'll continue to contemplate. One doesn't have to be in her 60s to think about this. At least, I don't have to be. Let's savor together soon.

  2. Good food for thought, my friend. Reminds me of my last move, from Shaker Hts. to Chagrin Falls, and all the sorting I did then--of stuff and ideas about my place in this world. It continues!
    Blessings to you as you move into Summer Savoring!

  3. I so enjoyed reading your reflections on sorting and retirement on this, the penultimate day of my career practicing law. Whether it's a gold watch or a retirement tea, or just taking the keys off the keyring; whether someone else "retires" you or you make the decision yourself, or perhaps as in your case recognize that the decision has already been made, I think that retirement as a stage in life offers fantastic opportunities. Some may be about doing the next great thing (think Grandma Moses) or may be about the chance to do many different things or NO-thing. There is opportunity here, and it beguiles. There is an opening, an unforeseen vista, and most of all time, that most precious commodity. I can feel time opening a huge clear space before me. I wonder what I will "do" but what I know for sure is that whatever it is will be on my terms and not designed to meet others' expectations of what a woman does best in retirement! But it's time now to pack my briefcase for tomorrow, the last formal day of my working life. Joan

  4. Wonderful, and I especially love the references to the books and your comments. I appreciate hearing this follow up to what you wrote and shared about your revelation...

  5. This is an interesting post and very close to the feelings I am having. I have been "retired" for five years now and am going through a phase of being busier than ever with lots of different stuff but feeling sometimes as though I have just "quit". You know, given up on being productive and accomplishing things--which actually isn't even true. The things I have accompished recently range from helping a dear friend through the end of her life on earth to arranging monthly programs at the senior center to delivering books to my homebound ladies to doing not one but two Relay for Life fundraisers--both food related--a spaghetti dinner and baked potato and salad lunch. This involved the shopping, the planning, the cooking, the staffing and the eating and clean-up. Catering anyone? The two events made just under $1000 so that was something, right? They took place over a four day period and the very day after I was bereft, at loose ends, asking myself why am I here?

    Maybe the problem is that I really do enjoy being retired and I don't feel guilty about getting to do whatever I want whenever I want to. But I really feel as though I should! I like coming home in the afternoon, making tea and reading whatever pleases me. I'm on book number 33 for the year. Not to mention the piles and piles of magazines I go through. I've started to plant outside and I still swim at least three times a week. Pretty soon I'll be doing that outside!

    But Nancy, you know I didn't really plan my retirement either. I just sort of backed into it for a variety of reasons the biggest one of which was access to health insurance. I didn't get the gold watch or the farewell tea either. Maybe I have to think that every day around 4 is my retirement tea and have a cuppa just for me. Got to go. It's 3:47! Love and kisses.