Retirement By Alice Herb
Today I think I found out what retirement should be- and I think I might like it. I had an early morning periodontist appointment to have stitches taken out. The procedure was quickly over and I decided to take advantage of a gorgeous day in a lovely part of town. First, a leisurely breakfast, then a slow walk down Fifth Avenue, stopping to window shop and ending up at the Museum of Modern Art. It was the first day of a new exhibit and to my delight scantily attended. I was able to read and view the art at my own pace and I was able to see and absorb the work of artists I had never seen before.
This unhurried pace, and doing what appealed to me at the moment, is a luxury I have not had in many decades.
I retired from my full-time job almost six years ago. But I continued to work- part-time for another year and a half, plus consulting, forming a research consortium, teaching my longstanding class at another college, and becoming more active as a co-chair of a Bar Association committee. Most people would not characterize that as retirement. But retirement is one of those mutable words that can mean anything. So much of what it’s supposed to mean is a myth.
More recently I “retired” from all but the consultancy because I was determined to write a memoir that has been languishing in pieces on my computer. Now I understand better what retirement is supposed to mean. I can stay in bed and read. I can go to the movies, theater, museums, lunch with my friends, whatever. But my inner clock has yet to accommodate to such freedom. I have been overextended my entire life. I was either working or looking for work. For much of that time, I was the breadwinner but also chief cook and bottle washer for the family. And I also played hard. I seemed always to be sleep deprived. That was my life. And now?
For so long retirement meant the end of the road. Nothing to achieve, nothing to aspire to. But that too is a myth. In reality, it’s actually a new phase of life, one that has already begun but will more and more become a different way of life. My goals so far are to write and publish that memoir and also leave a record for my son and his children. I want to blog. I want to organize protests to help change our health care system, to fight for more affordable prices for medications/drugs, and so on. And also to just enjoy! This is my present life. It says much about my personality, my interests, and my current state of health. It probably wouldn’t suit a lot of people. Some just want to put their feet up. Others are joiners and will knit, play cards, do volunteer work in groups. Others are loners or create different social structures. Whatever it is, it’s a life that needs getting used to.
The transition from a very active professional and personal life to the one that exists now has been difficult. I love and hate the quiet solitude of my life. It’s relaxing and luxurious to be able to decide each day what I will or will not do but my stern conscience is a constant irritant. Not being productive leaves me dissatisfied and uninspired. Being gregarious, I need to see and be around people. As a lively conversationalist (some would say chatterbox), I need people to talk to. But I also need quiet to think, reflect, remember, and write. Telephone calls these days are rare. E-mail, texting, and Facebook are not good substitutes. Yet I see family or friends and go out often enough to give me balance. That still does not fully describe my life. Having been married and widowed twice, I have never really gotten used to not having a close companion for whom I am #1. The upside is that I don’t have that other person to worry about and I increasingly enjoy my autonomy. And yet there is always the anxiety about a possible emergency. That is hard to think about and form a plan of action. Back to what is….
Being basically healthy does not mean that I can get up and run around as I always have. For me, it’s been three years of gigantic dental issues that may finally be resolved. The pain in my mouth was nothing compared to the pain in my wallet. But I have persisted and may end up happy with the result even though I now refer to my mouth as my Rolls Royce. Then there were two cataract operations, hearing tests, becoming accustomed to hearing aids and sinus issues brought on by the dental surgeries. As if this were not enough, I had to attend to my creaking joints and recurring sciatica. While I now exercise and have twice a week one-on-one Pilates training, I still experience days of pain when the barometric pressure is going down or humidity is high.
Yet I keep moving. As one of my doctors remarked, rolling stones gather no moss and I have valiantly avoided the moss. I have enough money to travel, to do whatever I wish but there is a rub – no husband or partner with whom to share it. I have traveled with several friends and mostly that has been successful. Group travel has been less satisfying but it is a compromise that I now make because traveling alone, which I have done often enough in the past, is a bit too risky at my age. The big thing to remember is that I have traveled a lot. My single state and age have not deterred me from doing what I love. A fabulous trip is on my calendar as well as a couple of short trips to location weddings. Not too shabby!
As I look back on how my retirement has evolved, I realize how lucky I am. My son is nearby, doing well professionally, divorced but now attached to a lovely woman. I see them often enough. My grandchildren, though out of state, do stay in touch and when back spend time with me. Life is good but it does require a lot of effort.
Alice Herb is a retired attorney, journalist, and bioethics consultant. Having reached the age of 85+, she’s more than ready to share her experiences and opinions with agebuzz readers. Want to comment on something she’s said? She welcomes your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org
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