A friend told me he hoped I would write something on my blog about my experiences in the early stages of retirement. Today, I am concluding eight months of it, and so, while I am miles away from being competent at living this new adventure (let alone expert), I think I can say a little on the subject of beginning retirement. My thoughts, feelings, and experiences are, of course, just my own and should not be generalized into anything prescriptive or even descriptive for others.
Probably because for strategic reasons in the life of the church I loved and had served for nearly twenty-seven years I retired at the end of June as the congregation was entering its summer rest period, my first two or three months without a job seemed much like an extended vacation. Moving into a new home in a different state consumes plenty of time and energy, and I rediscovered on an almost daily basis that I enjoy yard work, especially the heavier kind that requires physical exertion but little knowledge of landscaping or skill at gardening. I dug out sizable bushes, mowed the lawn once or twice a week, pruned trees, and hauled debris to the nearby and very convenient “leaf and woody yard waste” facility. We explored the area, had fun, got to know our neighbors a little better, enjoyed our yard, had our screened porch enclosed, painted rooms (choosing colors was the hardest part), bought furniture, and in September went with friends on an actual vacation in Vermont.
Because our house has the unfinished basement I wanted very much, we have room for our treadmill and weight-lifting area, my workshop, general storage, and our overflow of books. Now that everything has been moved into the house and we’ve made it through our first Christmas season, we need to rearrange all of it for room to use our new basement and find our stuff. We also need to get rid of more. Mentioning our overflow of one type of stuff brings me to the real topics of this post: time and books. Retirement is life after the time for an active career and as such is far too broad a subject for one blog post.
My new sense of time fooled me. I had been assured by people with plenty of experience that time would speed up for me, that my days, months, and even years would whiz by me, so that prudence would require decisions that took full account of preparing for the various incapacities that can come with aging and would quickly be upon me. Wrong. Time has slowed down for me. “Was it just this morning we did that?” has become a common question between my wife and me. I have been restored to the time sense of my childhood. My days are longer then they have been since I began my career, but I have yet to be bored since retiring. I now find I can take my time with projects and even the smallest doings of the day. I watch the birds that visit our feeder, not just to spot and identify them, but to see what they are doing and how they interact. I walk into town to the bank and post office or to the library, and sometimes we walk just to walk. We’ve even taken up hiking. I no longer (for the most part) have to make myself refrain from resenting interruptions, pokey drivers, slow check-out lines, and routine matters of managing a household and property. I’m no longer rushing to get things done. The sense of relief and freedom is a hard but very pleasant adjustment.
I admit that sometimes I still have a frustration dream or, during the day, the sudden feeling that I am behind in tasks I must get done so I can move right along to others. Then, I ask myself, “Behind in what?” and laugh at myself because I have no answer. I suppose that persistent sense of being behind is a sort of habitual free-floating anxiety developed over four decades of mostly seven-day and multiple evening work weeks, but now I find myself thoroughly enjoying the time sense of my childhood. I am free to live like a kid but think as an adult.
Books, the mass of them significantly complicated our moving to and setting up our new home. I kid my wife by reminding her that I have a friend who has more then 10,000 books in his house, but she just smiles indulgently because our one thousand or so of them take up quite enough room in our reduced living space.
Time and books have come together for me. I have a new three-shelf bookcase expressly for those special books I either have not yet read or else have not finished (I read several books at a time, and some seem to slip away from me) – about fifty of them. It’s not that I’ve stopped buying books. How could I when friends not only keep recommending them but also write and publish them, and when there have been two neat little bookstores close by (one remains, the other closed this month) as well as the Barnes and Noble down the Fruitville Pike a short way? And then there’s my Nook. Anyway, I now have time to read and liberty to read what I want to and to experiment with light, escapist books just for fun, including science fiction and fantasy.
Do I have no issues regarding my retirement? Yes, I have some. Life review, as people call it, is not always pleasant and probably never settled. I miss people back in Bridgeton, New Jersey. Finding a church in a new area after retiring from pastoral ministry would be a chapter in itself but has as yet no conclusion. We do see friends (for which we are thankful) but must also make new ones and find places for ourselves in our new community. And we still have to find doctors, a dentist, etc. I hope to write some books and have made beginnings in that direction. What else? When I retired, my executive presbyter, colleague, and friend, Debby Brincivalli, gave me a book titled, Called for Life. I think there’s a message there, but I don’t know yet what it might come to mean specifically for me. That I’ll have to discover.
Of my most recent reading, I will mention only four books, three read and the fourth started. The last two were written by friends of mine.
The Rhetoric of Reaction: Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy – a famous (in some circles) short work by the recently deceased Albert O. Hirschman, Professor of Social Science, Emeritus, at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.
Night (in a new translation by Marion Wiesel) – the brief, haunting, quickly read but not to be forgotten recollection by Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel of his youth as a victim and survivor of the Holocaust.
Shooting War – a novel written by Arthur Goldhammer, the renowned and award-winning translator of many works from French to English, blogger on French politics, and senior affiliate at Harvard’s European Studies Center.
Practicing to Walk Like a Heron – a book of poems written by Jack Ridl, professor emeritus at Hope College.