Children generally don’t experience crises of identity. During that period of life there are few shades of gray for most of us. Our friendships then are simpler, little sense of political correctness exists, and our physical senses steer many of the choices we make, as in attempting to eat an entire Easter basket of candy, or riding a tricycle down a steep hill onto a busy street on a summer morning. We depend often upon the good judgment of our parents, however much we may disagree with their assessments.
During adolescence, our views become governed even more by ego and a terror of not fitting in with our peers. Though our true selves are still forming during those years, those selves often remain hidden, at least at school, by an obsession to blend in, as we desire above all to “fit in,” hoping mostly to avoid any hint that we are in any way “weird.” I believe that for most of us that awful fear and intolerance fade with age, though some people retain them all their lives.
The powerful realities of work and raising children provide other levels of self-awareness, but ones that stress success through responsibility and choosing with hard-earned wisdom what we can do best. Most of us become more practical in terms of what we can accomplish as we move toward retirement and the final stage of life.
The question, “Who am I?” is the one I asked myself often during my first year of retirement. So accustomed to judging my own worth and purpose by what I did in my work as a high school teacher, I began in retirement to feel like some hedonistic rebel, self-gratification becoming, for the first time since childhood, my primary concern. Such guilt, however, was certainly short-lived. Socializing with friends and family, giving and attending dinner parties, playing cards, dominoes, Scrabble, the piano, painting in oils, gardening, swimming, helping animal rescues, bowling, playing bocce ball, and enjoying the continuing relationship of eight years with Jim, my domestic partner, as well as caring for our cat and dog, I feel happy and fulfilled. Good health I attribute to that happiness. Jim and I care for our house in Colorado and for our winter home in Florida. He retired in 2014, and I retired in 2004. We are in good health, and money is not an issue for us after all our years of work and preparation for such freedom. My purpose has become a simple one, to enjoy and be thankful for each day and to help others do the same, in whatever stages of life they may find themselves. Jim has children and grandchildren who add yet another level of joy to being alive. Life is good.
Of course, life cannot be perfect. Over the past few years my mother, father, brother and sister, as well as several dear friends, have all died. The frequency of such terrible losses only increases with age. The inevitability of that fact is one of the toughest to accept as we grow older, and the world seems to shrink at the bereavement over each person we have loved and lost. I sometimes wonder why I’m still here and why so many I loved are gone. Such unanswerable queries can haunt us if we let them, but I do know that my siblings would want me to keep loving them by celebrating each day of life left to me.
Maybe one of the best things about aging and retirement is that we can more easily allow life to unfold in its own way, without trying to control it as much as we did when we were younger. The bottom line here is to honor the gift of being alive every day, regardless of our ages and perhaps to begin each morning by asking, “Who am I today?” or “Who do I want to be today?” without fear of being placed into a padded cell under maximum security. JB