Monday, March 23, 2015

Notes on Retirement, number one

Belden Lane in his book Backpacking with the Saints writes about "transitioning to retirement". I like that way of putting it. No one retires as in one day you are employed and the next day you are retired. Of course, it seems like that, but there is always a transition. That transition can take days or years. It depends on when you got started in the transitioning process. I began it after I retired. Not the best time to start. But what did I know? Who prepares you to retire? It's like becoming a parent, you just do it and hope for the best. While you can take parenting classes and there are plenty of books to read about parenting there is a sense that you don't really know what it means to be a parent until you are one. Like parenting, you don't get retirement until you retire but there are some things to do to begin the transition process.

First thing to note is that it is a process. It is a huge change in your life. Lane calls it the "unmapped terrain of retirement." He compares it to backpacking. You learn how to pack and what to pack. You choose a trail to hike. You get there. You start out and then the adventure begins. You come back wiser and with a story to tell, you are changed. Retirement changes you. Whether you like it or not. I did not like it at first. I couldn't say the "R" word. I was only temporarily between jobs. It took me awhile to accept what I was. Even if I took some interim work, I was still retired. I could choose to work for pay or volunteer but I was retired. Once I accepted that I could start mapping the terrain.

Lane talks about entering retirement being a "deep mystery in being poised on the edge of something new in your life." It is unsettling to relinquish the "place" you've occupied for so long. The phone rings less and the email trail vanishes. You feel like you are not needed. What you are doing is not important. In Wallace Stegner's words you have reached an "angle of repose." The angle of repose is the 34 degree angle at which sand and pebbles stop falling down a mountain slope. That's like retirement, Lane writes. You don't have to look anywhere else for what you seek. You don't have to accomplish anything further. "The disparate particles of my life, clinging together in their downhill roll into the future find what they desire at this holding point on the mountain slope."

There is life after retirement once you are over grieving your loss of your "place". And it is not the "retirement life" that our culture sells us. There is no perfect retirement place. There are no formulas for retirement living. There is no retirement lifestyle you have to imitate. It is what you make it. It is a  brand new chapter of your life. It is an opportunity to do some things that you may never even have dreamed about. Please, dream new dreams, don't make retirement about checking experiences off your bucket list until you die. Lane again, "I'm summoned to an improved practice of adoration, marveling at the wonders of a world I still cannot fathom." That can be retirement.

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