Monday, April 26, 2021

what are you going to do when you retire?

It is sometimes difficult to keep retired life in perspective.

At least, it is for me.

Yesterday, after church, five of us wandered over to Rita's, a local restaurant, for breakfast-lunch. I had never been there, though the surroundings were familiar. It sits on the same laguna in Villa Obregón where I lived for five years. Proving once again that I am as subject to bouts of nostalgia as any doily-tatting grandmother.

At one point in our conversation, someone asked a question I often hear here: "What do you do with your days? How do you spend your time?"

We all dutifully answered the question like True Northerners by ticking off our favorite activities. Reading. Watching movies. Writing. Researching. Every answer indicating that we were doing Things With A Purpose. That we were not simply idling our time away in the sun.
I had encountered the same question, or its distant cousin, when I told friend at work fourteen years ago that I had decided to retire. Two friends, both renowned for their industry as attorneys, asked: "But what are you going to do in retirement?"

The question contained that same Calvinist seed that if I was not being productive, I was somehow letting down the effective side of society. I would simply be dead weight rather than a puller in The Great Tug of War that is life.

I told them they had the question turned around backwards. It was not what I had to do, but what I could do whenever I chose -- circumstances willing. I was done with all The Doing that drives our lives.

I wish I had remembered that yesterday because I knew the people well enough at the table that their days were not consumed with The Doing of Things.

My friends Lou and Wynn are masters of retirement. Certainly, they read and watch movies. But their life is much more. More often than not, you will find them out and about town enjoying the day -- like Saturday night's sunset. Or resting at their favorite isolated beach watching for whales this time of year. Simply relaxing in the midst of what this part of Mexico provides daily. For free. 

My friends at work would not have considered either of those activities as being worthy of their "what are you going to do" question. The subtext of the question was that unless I was going to research a cure for cancer or write the Great American Novel that I would just be wasting my time in retirement.

As I was sitting by the laguna yesterday listening to the conversation, I realized that I often get myself tied up in a routine that may be an attempt to prove that I am Doing Something. Each morning, I open Facebook to wish people a happy birthday, read the newspaper, study my Spanish, pick up the leaves and flowers that the vines slough off during the night, and then write my Mexpatriate essay.

When the tasks get overwhelming (and they do now and then), I know that I am failing in my attempt to do what I like in retirement -- because I have slipped into a Have To Get This Done mode. When that happens, one of my Mexican friends will inevitably stop by to ask me if I want to go for a walk or a ride. And the world is restored.

Billy Collins's latest book, Whale Day and Other Poems, has been sitting on my night-reading pile for a month. His introductory poem, "The Function of Poetry," sums up perfectly what my life is like when I put it in perspective. 

Let me share it with you.
I woke up early on a Tuesday,
made a pot of coffee for myself,
then drove down to the village,
stopping at the post office
then the bank where I cashed a little check
from a magazine, and when I got home
I read some of the newspaper
starting with the science section
and had another cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal.

Pretty soon, it was lunchtime.
I wasn't at all hungry
but I paused for a moment
to look out the big kitchen window,
and that's when I realized
that the function of poetry is to remind me
that there is much more to life
than what I am usually doing
when I'm not reading or writing poetry.

It is a great reminder for me that there is truly "much more to life" than The Doing.    

No comments: