A few weeks ago, the spring equinox moved us from the last days of winter into the first days of spring. “Equinox” in old Latin means equal, the time when the day and night hours are equal so that we are in a delicate balance for about 24 hours. If equinox were a state of being, that is where I would be right now. I was employed. Now I am retired. The time stretches behind me, noting the 20 years I worked at my job to the next step over that invisible barrier where I don’t work a job anymore. It’s a balancing act like no other.
According to Merriam -Websters Dictionary, the word “retired” has many meanings, including, but not exclusive to, retreat, withdraw, exit, disengage, pull back, call it a day, go to sleep (!), give up work, and fall back, to just name a few. It’s actually disheartening to find myself in this situation when looking at what society regards as “retirement”. It’s almost like feeling I have been put out to pasture because my usefulness is done.
Unlike fine wine and excellent cheese, we do not regard aging in people to be a positive progression. Personally the only thing I don’t like about aging is the break down of some physical strength. I have arthritis in my hip and my back hurts more often. But that does not render me a drain on society or lessen my creative and mental acuity. In fact, I have never felt so aware or creative in any other time of my life. And really, I am in control of the physical decline or lack thereof. I can walk or do yoga and other activities to keep myself in shape. I completely reject the notion that I am now in the sunset of my life. I refuse to retire.
In many cultures around the world, the elderly are revered and respected and depended on for their wisdom and knowledge. They are cared for because they have lived long and have contributed to the society they have grown and worked and possibly raised a family in. In western culture, there is a different attitude about aging and the elderly. It’s unfortunate that we do not look to the aging generation more for what they have done and what they can offer rather than considering them lacking any further contribution.
Retire. Such an odd word. It suggests stepping back and why on earth would I want to do that? It brings to mind a scene of proper, matronly Victorian women sipping tea in corsets and talking about…what??? Not my idea of a good time although I do love a good cup of tea. Rather, for me this is the time I no longer need to wear “corsets” or conform to set of rules and regulations to work under. Retirement for me is freedom. I am free to set my own course, walk my own path, follow the phases of the moon, drink wine and dance at midnight if I choose. I am not bound by any schedule but my own.
The Monday following my last day of work, I went to my office on campus to clean it out. I had not been back there in the year since we went into lock down in March of 2020 and began to work virtually. The calendar on my wall had been turned to April 2020. I can only imagine that when I left in March I fully expected to be back there a month later and to be honest, didn’t we all? None of us could see what was just around the corner. How is something like this ever predicted? But I also saw it as a metaphor for my new chapter. I can turn the page of my calendar but I won’t really know what is down the road. I have plans and ideas and dreams but the days cannot tell me how those will play out. I only know that they will. I refuse to disengage, step back, or retreat…in short, retire.
In old folkloric terms, I am in my “crone” phase. I am no longer a maiden and my years of motherhood are transforming as my children grow and have babies of their own. “Crone” by one definition can mean I am a disagreeable old woman and I definitely have my days. But another definition suggests that “crone” means wise woman, someone who is respected for her experience and judgement. I like that definition better. It suggests purpose and meaning. It’s hard at times to think about what might be ahead. What I am finding more important is what is now. Now is my time with a beautiful child who reminds me to laugh, to love, to explore and that total joy can simply be a good meal and a good night’s sleep. He reminds me to hold onto those who are most dear. This past year has made us realize what it’s truly valuable in life. Family, hope. Blind faith, sometimes. Faith, all of the time.
This is not time to retreat from life. This is the time for full speed ahead. No boundaries but my own. All the days are mine to decide what to do with. I have no intention of leading a retiring life. Where’s the fun in that? What else have we worked so hard most of our lives for? I think of all the creative books, films, paintings, music, scientific discoveries and knowledge that has been brought into being by people considered senior citizens. Maybe the body doesn’t age well but the mind and soul and spirit certainly do. I can’t wait to learn what’s next. Bring it on!