On Retirement

ON RETIREMENT

I’ve been retired now for ten years but remember that in 2004 I was worried about whether I had saved enough and invested enough to make it into “old age,” which, by the way, keeps leaping about ten years beyond where I am at any given moment. It turned out that I had no financial worries and needed instead to concern myself with how I would spend my time in the most productive and entertaining ways. My alarm clock became a physical anachronism whose digital dial began to glow on my night table in a much friendlier way than it had during all those years that I had to get up at five every weekday morning.

The hobbies of painting in oils, playing piano, reading, cooking, gardening, and travel were all wonderful ways to pass time in meaningful ways, but it has been writing that has given me the most pleasure and pride over those ten years. One of the greatest fears that people have is that they will not be able to fill all that “free time” in fulfilling ways, but I believe if there’s a secret to having a good retirement, it may be to try new things, have creative outlets, and simply not to worry about not doing what others think is necessary in being “free.” Nobody said that you have to win a Nobel Prize, climb Mount Everest, or save a third-world country by yourself. It’s really about following your heart and not being afraid to take a different path once in a while.  Make new friends, and nurture your old friendships.

Being a responsible citizen in terms of going to a traditional job for eight to ten hours a day for forty years is wonderful, but retirement changes that ethos by allowing more choices and liberty to make your life mean whatever you want it to mean on a daily basis. You aren’t locked into anything. Hedonism becomes only one of many possibilities after retirement, and no guilt should weigh you down, even for a moment about all those doors you want to open. One of my favorite anonymous quotations is, “Life is filled with doors we haven’t opened, and rooms we can’t go back to.” Have no regrets.

I’m not sure that anyone has captured in a more amusing or meaningful way the significance of retirement than the poet, David Wright, whose poem for his friend on this topic I’d like to share:

Lines on Retirement, after Reading Lear

by David Wright
for Richard Pacholski

Avoid storms. And retirement parties.

You can’t trust the sweetnesses your friends will

offer, when they really want your office,

which they’ll redecorate. Beware the still

untested pension plan. Keep your keys. Ask

for more troops than you think you’ll need. Listen

more to fools and less to colleagues. Love your

youngest child the most, regardless. Back to

storms: dress warm, take a friend, don’t eat the grass,

don’t stand near tall trees, and keep the yelling

down—the winds won’t listen, and no one will

see you in the dark. It’s too hard to hear

you over all the thunder. But you’re not

Lear, except that we can’t stop you from what

you’ve planned to do. In the end, no one leaves

the stage in character—we never see

the feather, the mirror held to our lips.

So don’t wait for skies to crack with sun. Feel

the storm’s sweet sting invade you to the skin,

the strange, sore comforts of the wind. Embrace

your children’s ragged praise and that of friends.

Go ahead, take it off, take it all off.

Run naked into tempests. Weave flowers

into your hair. Bellow at cataracts.

If you dare, scream at the gods. Babble as

if you thought words could save. Drink rain like cold

beer. So much better than making theories.

We’d all come with you, laughing, if we could.

About John

John Bolinger was born and raised in Northwest Indiana, where he attended Ball State University and Purdue University, receiving his BA and MA from those schools. Then he taught English and French for thirty-five years at Morton High School in Hammond, Indiana before moving to Colorado. He spends his winters in Pompano Beach, Florida. Besides COME SEPTEMBER, Journey of a High School Teacher, John's other books are ALL MY LAZY RIVERS, an Indiana Childhood, and COME ON, FLUFFY, THIS AIN'T NO BALLET, a Novel on Coming of Age, all available on Amazon.com as paperbacks and Kindle books. Alternately funny and touching, COME SEPTEMBER, conveys the story of every high school teacher’s struggle to enlighten both himself and his pupils, encountering along the way, battles with colleagues, administrators, and parents through a parade of characters that include a freshman boy for whom the faculty code name is “Spawn of Satan,” to a senior girl whose water breaks during a pop-quiz over THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS. Through social change and the relentless march of technology, the human element remains constant in the book’s personal, entertaining, and sympathetic portraits of faculty, students, parents, and others. The audience for this book will certainly include school teachers everywhere, teenagers, parents of teens, as well as anyone who appreciates that blend of humor and pathos with which the world of public education is drenched. The drive of the story is the narrator's struggle to become the best teacher he can be. The book is filled with advice for young teachers based upon experience of the writer, advice that will never be found in college methods classes. Another of John's recent books is Mum's the Word: Secrets of a Family. It is the story of his alcoholic father and the family's efforts to deal with or hide the fact. Though a serious treatment of the horrors of alcoholism, the book also entertains in its descriptions of the father during his best times and the humor of the family's attempts to create a façade for the outside world. All John's books are available as paperbacks and Kindle readers on Amazon, and also as paperbacks at Barnes & Noble. John's sixth and most recent book, Growing Old in America: Notes from a Codger was released on June 15, 2014.
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