Five Years On

As I begin my sixth year as a “retired” person, I can no longer claim that I am “in transition” between having a career and not having one.  The career ended and the transition is over.  I am unequivocally retired, yet I have continued to feel uncomfortable about being in retirement.

“Retirement” connotes something negative, something given up, a loss of position.  At the outset of my retirement, I worried about being no longer useful.  But as I look back at the last five years, I see that I have managed to be useful to others, though perhaps in a narrower sense than I felt during the last decade or so of my working life.

My work had a greater impact and affected more people than anything I have done since I closed the door on my career.  Admitted, it is merely my own perception about the significance of what I did for a living.  The fruits of my labor were under-appreciated at the time and are less than legendary now.  Those thirty or forty years of work that I call my career—did it matter?  By retiring, I allowed my life to become irrelevant to my career.

Or, to be more positive, retirement has made my career no longer relevant to my life.

I do not feel regret for choosing to end my career.  I feel grateful for having the choice.  My work—and my wife’s work—made that choice possible.  It is toward our younger selves that I now feel gratitude.

Gratitude is affirmative.  That was my first clue.  I now believe that there can be something deeply affirmative about retirement.  Retirement is an accomplishment, not a loss.  It is a new opportunity, not a final defeat.

The word “retirement” dates from the sixteenth century out of the Old French “re-“ (back) plus “tirer” (to draw), meaning “to withdraw.”  It has the sense of removing oneself from someplace and to someplace—often meaning to a place of privacy or seclusion.

It is that place of privacy that should be viewed affirmatively.  Retirement is a retreat, yes, but not a defeat.  The army, withdrawn from the field of battle, occupies its stronghold.  There is privacy within the castle walls.  There is a world of privacy in retirement.

In that period of transition into retirement, I found myself shaking off the twin sensations of the Never-Ending Weekend and Retirement Guilt.  At times, I felt liberated from a Monday-to-Friday work schedule.  I no longer had to maintain the delicate life/work balance between five-day job responsibilities and two-day weekends when my responsibilities were largely about doing household chores.  There was so little time left over for simply enjoying life that I almost convinced myself that household chores were pleasurable.  Career was at the center of my life.  Even on those weekends of more or less fun, work overshadowed me as Monday Morning Dread set in on Sunday afternoons.

When I retired, I was quick to discover that every day felt like a Saturday or Sunday and that the dread for Mondays was only a phantom.

The other post-career sensation—feeling guilty for retiring—was more pernicious.  It was the feeling that I had “given up” too early when I could have continued my productive working years.  There was something shameful about retirement.  I should not have thrown in the towel.  I had to justify myself to myself by claiming the right to retire at a youngish 63 thus sparing myself the nightmare of keeling over on the job.

Both of these feelings have faded if not completely vanished from my mind.  Retirement as a never-ending weekend remains an apt description in a technical sense, I suppose.  But I cannot remember the last time I felt Monday Morning Dread or Retirement Guilt.

My experience of retirement is changing.  A new rhythm has emerged.  It is as though, withdrawn from the ambient chatter of work and career, I have heard my life much better.  I cannot say that I am accomplishing much—but I am not obliged to accomplish anything.  Instead I am guided a lot by what I find enjoyable.

I did not face retirement as a task that I had to analyze and plan for.  When I retired, I did not know what would happen next, and I still don’t.  It is all a new piece of music and I am listening for the harmony of the moment.  One way or another, my days are full and not without pattern.

I have come to acknowledge the affirmative in retirement.  In a private way, this act of withdrawing is a gift that I gave to myself.  I am aware of the passing of time, and in whatever time I have left I want to celebrate that gift.

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Health Hazard

I am annoyed with Donald Trump.  Not merely annoyed, I have come to the conclusion that the man is hazardous to my health.  It’s getting so I am apprehensive about waking up in the morning to hear NPR bring me news of the latest atrocity committed by Mr. Trump’s administration.

The “national emergency” that he has just discovered at our southern border is today’s latest example.  If there is such a crisis (which I do not believe actually exists), why did it take him two years to find it?  The “crisis” of course is phony.  It serves only as a ploy to circumvent the normal channels of legislation.  He was unable to get a border wall funding bill through Congress.  The sloppy art of his deal was to wait until a quarter of the government ran out of money and then use that as leverage to get what he wants.

This is not negotiating.  This is taking hostages and making a non-negotiable demand.

Of course, this ploy would not work so well were it not for the collusion of Mitch McConnell (and the majority of Republicans).  Mitch says there is no point in having the Senate consider funding the government unless the president will sign the bill.  I must admit that there is a certain appeal to that argument.  I mean, why bother to legislate?  Never mind the Senate’s Constitutional duty.  But in reality, the only thing Mr. Trump wants to sign is the back of a check from the taxpayers for his Great-Great Wall. 

What Mitch is really saying by refusing to consider anything else is that the Republicans are ready to agree to the ransom demand.

If Mitch had any backbone, he would tell Mr. Trump that the only legislation the Senate will pass is a bill that would immediately re-open the government, provide funding for more immigration judges, provide humanitarian assistance to asylum-seeking families who are stuck at the border, and sure, providing some better electronic and technological surveillance on the border.  Next, Congress should take up comprehensive immigration reform.  (Okay, I can already hear the laughter from the invertebrate Republicans.)

A “physical barrier “at the border is nonsense.  Considering the time it would take to complete a massive federal construction project, it can hardly be called an urgent response to a “national emergency.”  As far as I can see, the only ones to benefit are the contracting outfits who would do the construction at inflated “government work” prices.

And that’s just today’s atrocity!  These are supposed to be my golden years, but how can I enjoy them with Mr. Trump in charge of my country?  It’s like having perpetual acid reflux.  My greatest existential fear is dying while he is still in office.  It will take years to undo the damage that he has already caused.  I can only hope that I should live so long.

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