Sunday, September 13, 2015

"Feeling Retired"

   September 8 was the first day of school for both Philly public and private school students. Our house in Mt Airy is a block away from a public elementary school, and the corner outside our house is a stop on the bus routes of two private elementary schools. So when I got back from my morning walk on Tuesday I could both see and hear that combination of excitement, confusion, fear, nervousness and parental relief that always seems to mark the start of a new school year. It was a bit of a shock to have the level of noise in the area after a summer of slow awakening mornings-the volume of kids' voices and the rumbling of idling buses took some getting used to. But I usually love the sound of excited kids' voices, and I enjoyed seeing so many new haircuts, fresh clean clothes and excited open faces. And over time I will get used to those sights and sound because I will hear and see them on a regular basis now. For the first time in some 35+ years, I am not in school.

   When I retired in June many people said that I wouldn't really feel retired until that first day of school in September when kids were going back and I was at home; when the halls would be full of kids and shouts and energy and I wouldn't be experiencing that. While I am not totally sure what “feeling retired” means, I did know that this summer was not a usual one. For one thing I did not spend time thinking about what changes I would make in my classes or how I would incorporate some of the things I was experiencing in my curriculum. I did have a few moments of seeing something in a museum and thinking of how I could present it to kids, but that was momentary. I knew I was not planning for classes and that felt somewhat freeing. Some folks equate being retired with not doing much, but that definition wouldn't work for me either. Even when I was teaching I also wrote, played music, hiked, birdwatched, traveled, camped and more. I am an active, high energy person, so being retired to me has nothing to do with doing nothing. I will just have more time to do those other things. In fact, I have added one more: my wife organized some friends into a group who will be spending some time working in a public school library helping teachers use the library with kids in their classrooms. We spent part of the summer organizing ourselves and the library to get ready for doing this, and that was one of the highlights of the summer. We were cataloging, organizing and shelving the books, and this brought me back in touch with the joy of being in a library and thinking about the great things a library can bring to kids. I am really looking forward to doing that work this year.

    When it came down to it, though, the thing that made me feel most like I was retired was all of those personal infrastructure things a person my age has to do in order to lay the groundwork for the last third of my life. Figuring out Medicare and Medicaid; deciding on long term care insurance; revising the will-doing those things this summer is what went a long way to making me feel truly retired. I know I have more behind me than I have in front of me; I have known and accepted that for some time. That is not a negative thing to me; I have been aware of my own mortality for a long time now, and I am not afraid of death nor do I fear it. But doing that basic personal groundwork of preparation-wrestling with the forms and their arcane language and getting help and having to make some real choices, the results of which would have real consequences for me and for others--made my life status real in a way it hadn't been before. I am used to going through life moving fairly lightly and easily for the most part. You try some things, revise if it doesn't work, and move on to the next thing. Easy. But these "personal infrastructure" things required a level of thought, planning and seriousness that was different for me, and this had me thinking about my past and my present and my hopes for the future in pretty intense and deep ways. And when I finally made those decisions and signed those forms and had those basic plans for my future set, then I truly felt retired. My head was lighter and more open . It was as if I taken a path through a forest to a clearing from where I could see new paths and roads and rivers to try. And I felt freer, which is what I imagined and hoped being retired would feel like.

   So that first day of school found me wishing those kids I saw well and sending good thoughts and hope to my former colleagues and former students. I hope the year is a good one and that the joy and great feeling that I was privileged to have had for so much of my teaching career could be as real for them as well. I am looking forward to playing more music, traveling and birding more, working in the public school library, and eagerly having new adventures and new encounters with the world as they come up. Living and facing life with quiet joy, wonder and good spirit. As a friend of mine said when talking about what it meant to her to be retired, “When I was working I had a busy life; now I have a full life.”  Yes-that is it. For I am retired. And now I feel it.

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