November 3, 2018 by Jean
I used to chuckle about retirees who claimed they couldn’t remember how they previously found time to hold a job, and I vowed I would never become one of those over-busy people. And then I became one. Oops! What happened?
It is not that I am filling up my life with activities and meetings in a desperate attempt to avoid a lonely, empty void. I am a person who thrives on solitude and requires regular periods of time alone to feel centered and fully alive. And recently I have not been getting enough of that time.
I did not anticipate the extent to which my life would expand in retirement. Many people think of retirement as a time when life contracts as the big focus that was work drops out, taking with it the satisfactions and many of the relationships that work provided. But this has not been my experience. In retirement, I have been able to continue the aspects of my work as a college professor that I loved most. This fall, I am teaching a weekly class at the Senior College on how to think productively about inequality in American society. This is the kind of class I find most rewarding: the students are eager and engaged, class discussion is thoughtful and lively, class preparation has helped me to clarify my thinking, and questions and issues raised in class discussion challenge me to push my thinking in new directions. I have also had an opportunity to mentor younger students as I work this year with a group of Master’s Degree in Occupational Therapy students from the local university doing research on barriers to health care for those aging alone.
While I am still able to reap the satisfactions of teaching and of working with students, these activities no longer take up the largest portion of my time and energy, leaving me free to pursue interests that I couldn’t fit into my life when I was working. Some of these, like participating in a book club, becoming a Master Gardener Volunteer and creating a new front garden for my house, were part of my retirement plan. Others are rewarding activities from earlier in my life, like choral singing, that I now have time to pick up again. Others, like studying the science and practice of horticulture at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens and organizing a support group for those aging alone, were not on my radar when I retired. I confess that I can get carried away by enthusiasm; when a new interest or opportunity presents itself, I think “I have the time now to pursue this!” The result is that I have become somewhat over-committed. And yet, each of these activities enriches my life; giving up any of them would be a loss.
These new interests and activities have expanded my life in another way; each of them brings new friendships. This is another aspect of my expanding life in retirement that I did not anticipate. I expected to have more time for existing friendships, but not that my friendship network would expand so dramatically. All these friendships enrich my life, but each of them needs nurturing.
“Make new friends, but keep the old” advises the old Girl Scout song. It’s good advice; finding the time and energy to carry it out can be a challenge. Sometimes this means going out to be with friends even when I’m craving time alone at home. Two weeks ago, I found myself feeling grumpy as I set out on a Saturday morning to spend the day with two childhood friends. We live several hundred miles apart, and we have been meeting once a year in a location that is about an hour and a half from home for each of us. But this was my eighth day in a row with commitments outside the house, and what I really wanted was a day of down time. Once I arrived at the meeting place, though, I remembered how much I appreciate the company of these old friends. We enjoyed a meal together and spent the afternoon hiking through some lovely fall woods, reminiscing, and laughing. I was very tired when I got home, but in a good way; the day with old friends had been renewing. This past week, I met one of my new friends for lunch. We very much enjoy one another’s company and wondered how we had allowed almost six months to slip by since we last got together. But as we got caught up with one another’s lives – my horticulture classes and her house design and building classes, our various Senior College classes, my singing and her involvement with a new Center for Performing Arts in her part of the state – it became clear how the ever-expanding circles of our lives had kept us apart.
My life in retirement is not perfect. Getting the balance right continues to challenge me. But my life is richer and fuller than I ever imagined it could be, and it is still expanding.