I take these thoughts about my time in life from two sources. I am finding that retirement includes, whether I like it or not, an ongoing process of life review. I conduct that review in quiet moments and even in my dreams, going back to episodes in my life that felt good but also to incidents of embarrassment over what was or regret for what might have been.
My first source grabbed me as I started reading another in a series of mystery novels my wife thought I might enjoy. Not normally one to read mysteries, I must admit, as I begin my ninth in the series, that I have been enjoying them. The acknowledgments Louise Penny makes in prefacing her Chief Inspector Gamache novel, How the Light Gets In, include her gratitude to Leonard Cohen for his poem/song, “Anthem,” from which she has taken the book’s title. These are the four lines she quotes that have stuck in my mind, attaching to my thoughts about my retirement and my time in life:
Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering.
There’s a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.
My second source is the unnamed messenger students of the Bible call the Prophet of the Exile or Second Isaiah because his crying out to Judah’s exiles in Babylon is preserved in Isaiah, chapters 40-55. There was surely for his listeners the sense that their lives and their shared life as a people lay in the past cracked and broken.
It would be maudlin and downright pathetic for me to suggest my retirement corresponds to the Babylonian exile of the Jews. It does not. My present life is far too good and pleasant for such a comparison. That said, however, retirement does raise the life question, “What remains for me to be and do?” Chronologically, most of my life is in the past. Career, too, is a thing of the past even though the call to serve does not end with career.
I must do some interpreting of the prophetic word if I am to hear it as spoken to me. The prophet uses a metaphor of God’s care for an individual to promise God’s ongoing care for and relationship with the covenant people, Israel. To hear the promise spoken personally to me, I must reverse the metaphor and believe God’s covenant love embraces individuals within the people. I do so believe.
Until your old age I shall be the same,
until your hair is grey I shall carry you.
As I have done, so I shall support you,
I myself shall carry and shall save you.
(Isaiah 46:4 in the New Jerusalem Bible)
So, I hear a call: to ring the bells that still can ring. I never imagined my offering to be perfect, but now even my dreams remind me of just how many cracks life and I made in it. But maybe Cohen is right. That’s how the light gets in.