Seventy-the bridge to somewhere

Posted on Monday, October 3rd, 2016 by C Baldwin
sunset

sunset

It’s heartwarming to be welcomed home; to have people notice that Ann and I are more in residence in our community than we were a year ago. However, when well-meaning people inquire, “does this mean you’re retired?” something weird happens inside me that I have been sorting for months.

It may be my own outdated stereotypes of the word that are getting stirred up, but my unabridged Random House Dictionary of the English Language informs me of the following definitions: “retire; 1. To withdraw, to go away or apart from; to remove from active life,” or “retired; no longer occupied with one’s business or profession;” or “retirement, …2. Removal or withdrawal from service.”

This sure doesn’t fit what goes on around here where the work of sustaining island life is hugely augmented by volunteering and vibrant 60-70-80-year-olds—and my still volunteering and vibrant 96-year-old father!

Okay, I am 70 years old. We have publically and proudly announced passing our circle facilitation trainings to TheCircleWay.net. BUT— I am still teaching my memoir class, The Self as the Source of the Story, two times a year, along with selective mentoring with other writers. Ann Linnea, Deb Greene-Jacobi, and I are still leading our annual Cascadia wilderness quest. PeerSpirit, Inc. is still a half-time job.

writing w/ tea

writing w/ tea

Alongside remaining work commitments are family commitments, community service, gardening—writing—singing in the community choir, helping friends and neighbors in even bigger transitions than we are, and occasionally even relaxing over coffee/tea or dinner with folks we haven’t seen in way too long a time! The days do not feel “retired”—unless all this busyness IS retirement. If so, we need another word.

Boomers are trying to make a new word. “Refirement,” “rebooting,” “ruppies” (retired urban professionals)—cute, but not satisfying. I saw a man in the grocery store wearing a tee-shirt that proclaimed, “I’m retired, but I still work part-time as a pain-in-the-ass”— sort of funny, but also not the definition I’m seeking.

I feel myself on a bridge crossing from one stage of life to the next. It feels important. Not only to me, but to others in the generation of Boomers. We have been both championed and chastised for changing expectations about our lives at every stage of aging, from puberty on. The 70s decade is our last big chance to discern what remains for us to do.

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In my unwillingness to “withdraw from active life…to remove myself from service,” I am not yet certain what I expect of myself, or what the world hopes I will step into for another ten years.

When I was 21 and a junior in college, the head of the English department plucked me out of his advanced Shakespeare course and told me he thought I’d make a good English professor. I was flattered, but stunned—academia had never occurred to me. I blurted out at him (this was 1967), “I can’t do that, there’s a war on! I am more likely to be in prison by age 25 than in graduate school.”

It was a defining moment in my life: I chose the path of the outsider rather than the insider. I did not go to prison, though some of the men in my class went for draft resistance while others went into the draft. Before I was 25, I moved to California and worked for the American Friends Service Committee. I went to Europe and worked for the British Friends Service Council. I went to Gaza and Israel and worked with Quaker-based child and youth programs. I came back to the US and began figuring out how to be an activist writer. My mantra for all my work has been, “Inform-Inspire-Activate.”

I am still asking, what is my remaining life mission? I see the vibrant years of elderhood, (however long we have the health and energy to remain engaged) as an invitation to radical attention and thoughtful action.

Now, instead of getting ready to leave college for my work years as I was in 1967, it is suddenly 2016, and I am leaving my work years for my “X” years—a redefined involvement that goes deep, perhaps goes smaller in scale, and hopefully harvests my years of experience.

On this bridge to somewhere the world’s needs press around me as I contemplate my choices and I bow to the incredible privilege to have a life that supports choice. I want to stay more local, to support the next generation, to tend to the final years of our beloved parents, and the childhood years of our beloved grandchildren. I also do not feel done making contributions to the world outside my friends/family.

I am looking for what gestures I can make into the world’s need that will be most effective and impactful. I watch the events at Standing Rock, see things go by in social media, and I want to serve as a catalyst and supporter of catalysts as we go through this agonizing process of “changing our minds” about what we will tolerate and what we will save.

I vow to stay awake. I vow to listen to the pleas for justice. I will place my actions where I dare. I will use my elderhood as an opportunity for taking risk.

Join me?

Anyway you want.

Let me know your thoughts.

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37 responses to “Seventy-the bridge to somewhere”

  1. Barbara Joy Laffey says:

    Hi Christina! This blog resonated with me. When I left my job in April, an email announcement was sent out to all employees stating that I was retiring! I had the same visceral reaction as you to that word – and an almost violent protest arose in response, “No! Not retiring!” Simply taking a year (or more) off working to finish writing dissertation, enjoying great relief from the stress of the business world’s daily grind, and opening myself to what comes next. Several friends and associates have been publishing important books well into their 80’s. There is much good work still to do. Thanks for sharing your process.

  2. Ann Lonstein says:

    One thing that has really struck me with John’s retirement from 44 years of being a spine surgeon, is this. People congratulate him and are so happy that he can “take it easy” My silent response is, why the congrats? He loved what he did. He was excellent at it and helped 100’s of children.
    So, we too are working our way through this Eldering, not really retired process.
    Love to you and Ann

  3. James Wells says:

    I like that radical theologian talks about “refirement” rather than “retirement”. I sense the pulse of refirement behind your words, Christina.

  4. Barbara Lamb says:

    Hi Christina, you say your mantra has been Inform-Inspire-Activate. How about, when people ask if you are retiring, you tell them you are RE-informing – RE-inspiring – and RE-activating! Love to you both, Barbara

  5. Tom Ehlinger says:

    Christina,

    Thanks for your insights. I retired in May after 36 years of being a corporate lawyer and, when people ask me what it’s like, I way it’s a lot like graduating from college — a major initiation has been completed and I’m now moving into the next stage of possibility, whatever that may be. I just pray my choices are informed by more wisdom and grace than I carried at 25.

    Here’s a little poem I wrote in July trying to explain to myself what retirement (at that moment) felt like.

    Retirement

    Mid-move from Park Place to Baltic Avenue
    the board disappears
    and my Top Hat is left floating
    over an empty table –
    no rows of rectangular boxes
    in purple, yellow, green, red, or blue,
    no railroads, no jail, no pass Go,
    no utilities or community chest –
    only a stack of strange new cards
    each one labeled “Chance” on one side with
    “Why not? Go ahead!” on the other.

    Tom Ehlinger

  6. judy says:

    Funny you should mention it.
    I saw your name on my timeline and I thought… Ah, Christine… she must be 70 now.. I wonder how she is with that. 10 years ago I spoke to you on the phone from James Well’s home and mentioned I was about to turn 60 and you talked about how you were finding it and that you were really liking it.
    Since i turned 69, I’ve been freaking out a bit about 70 coming up. I call it my wtf birthday.
    So I was delighted to see that, right on time, you were speaking about being 70. Thank you for sharing once again!
    love, Judy

  7. Oh yeah. I get that question frequently (from people who don’t know me well enough to know I never really had anything to retire from). But if this is retirement, I want it over! 😀 How about “Not retired, refocusing.” Love to you. Thank you for posting on this subject. Hoping I’m included in the mentorees. So excited for Harriet that she will be in your SAS class. G

    (P.S. I so hate that I have to do math to prove I’m not a robot when I comment on your posts. Couldn’t it be about using lay and lie correctly in a sentence or something?)

    • Christina Baldwin says:

      I had no idea that Math was required to make a comment! I who flunked 9th grade algebra. I’ll see what I can do.

  8. Jeanne Guy says:

    You know I am right behind you, turning 70 next February. I will never retire but shall continue to reframe my life and my being. Around every corner there is a new challenge. And smart-ass that I am, I’ll make it fun and meaningful. I plan to be present. Love you for your guidance and for this blog post.

  9. Marianne Gerber says:

    dear Christina, not so long ago you wrote “ma life is a full time job”. These words corresponded so much with what I have been doing the last 10 years. I did not reply immediately because
    a) my English knowledge is poor (I a have to look up many words) and
    b) so many fascinating discussions about demographic aging were going on in the political scene, that there was simply no time left to go on-line. Now, this new blog turns around the same topic and I want to reply.
    Having worked in Gerontology for many years I couldn’t “retire”. The aging society is a fact and as a 71 year old ex-professional I still get excited and nervous whenever in a auditorium the academic world is publishing evidences, which can be experienced in circling in a much friendlier atmosphere and provides even deep in-sights and learning to the participants.
    Accompanying and caring for my 100 year old mother is an extraordinary “school of life” I would not want to miss. All the important themes and issues such as “end of life”, health, love, suffering, passion … come up in a our dialogues in a very simple and healing way.
    Yes, my life is a full time job. Retirement is a artificial and administrative threshold we, in the western world, can thankfully accept as it is. Let us do what we have heart and meaning for.
    love to both of you, Christina and Ann

    • Christina Baldwin says:

      Thank you Marianne for taking the time and effort to write. I love that your mother is still with you and your are on such a journey. Following heart and meaning is wonderful advice.

  10. Marianne Gerber says:

    dear Christina, not so long ago you wrote “my life is a full time job”. These words corresponded so much with what I have been doing the last 10 years. I did not reply immediately because
    a) my English knowledge is poor (I a have to look up many words) and
    b) so many fascinating discussions about demographic aging were going on in the political scene, that there was simply no time left to go on-line. Now, this new blog turns around the same topic and I want to reply.
    Having worked in Gerontology for many years I couldn’t “retire”. The aging society is a fact and as a 71 year old ex-professional I still get excited and nervous whenever in a auditorium the academic world is publishing evidences, which can be experienced in circling in a much friendlier atmosphere and provides even deep in-sights and learning to the participants.
    Accompanying and caring for my 100 year old mother is an extraordinary “school of life” I would not want to miss. All the important themes and issues such as “end of life”, health, love, suffering, passion … come up in our dialogues in a very simple and healing way.
    Yes, my life is a full time job. Retirement is a artificial and administrative threshold we, in the western world, can thankfully accept as it is. Let us do what we have heart and meaning for.
    love to both of you, Christina and Ann

    • Christina Baldwin says:

      Ahh Marianne, Thank you always for your thoughtfulness in English! I wish I could respond to you in German, but you know our hearts have a big vocabulary. I am near my father and travel often to my mother and would not miss this school either. Someday my grandchildren will be traveling to see me… the cycle continues. Blessings to you for this wise comment.

  11. Kathryn Herbert says:

    Thank you for this. I have been struggling with the whole concept of retirement as I see my husband and friends retire from traditional jobs and work lives. I have never chosen that route and have tried my hand at any number of things and retirement seems like such a foreign concept. I also feel that I have things left to do. I am not ready to “retire” and I am not even sure what that means. Your call of action to stay awake rings true for me. This is the inspiration I needed.

  12. Margaret says:

    Christina, hitting the nail right on the head here. I join you in your hopes and visions for your “X years” as I continue to try to shape the entry into my own. Love to you both.

  13. Paul Stageberg says:

    Chris, the point I’ve made to people — which underlies what you’re saying, as well — is that it’s important to retire TO something, not just FROM something. Those who don’t find a new (or revised) niche are doomed to be doomed.

    And I think you would have made a great professor, too.

    • Christina Baldwin says:

      Thanks Paul, for the vote of confidence re being a good English prof. Probably… Have done it in other ways, teaching adult writers for decades. I love that you commented. Take care.

  14. Helmuth von Bluecher says:

    Christiana, what a nice article! Well put. Helmuth

  15. Thanks once again, Christina, for your thoughtful sharing. I’m only one and a half years your junior. My thoughts, you ask? Mostly this: That I stay open to new directions and new expressions by centering myself consciously in the heart. Only the heart knows truly. My mind, by this new (for me) way of living, is the servant of the heart. And wow, what arises is miraculous. And the ongoing miracle that I experience has such a powerful PURPOSE that my “pre-retirement” life looks like preparation for Now.

    • Christina Baldwin says:

      Thanks for commenting, Glenn, I love the reminder to stay heart-centered both personally and collectively these days. You would be a good candidate to come up with some new words for this stage of life. Blessings, Christina

  16. Jude Rathburn says:

    Dear Christina –

    What a thought provoking post! Some of the things I admire about how you and Ann have been moving into this new phase of life, are your awareness and intentionality, as well as your willingness to share the struggles and the inspiration. Even though I am only approaching 60, you have inspired me (and others, I am sure) to think more carefully about what legacy I want to leave behind when my career comes to an end. Building heart connections and paying attention to where I am needed in the world around me, are great first steps. Thanks for being who you are in the world. With much love and gratitude. Jude

  17. Wally Cason says:

    You are like the Grand Canyon to me,
    The Atlantic, Pacific and Niagara Falls.
    I forget you in sunlight
    but remember you at dusk.
    One star twinkles in an ancient galaxy.
    Orcas leap in the Arctic Ocean deep
    And yellow-flecked seething aspens
    Flicker but do not fly. I think about
    Your words. Hope lives in stillness.

    • Christina Baldwin says:

      Dear Wally, Somewhere in an old scrapbook I have poems from our freshman year at college. I am glad to know the poet still lives in you. Hope your life has been fulfilling for you–and remains so.
      Christina

  18. Jeanne says:

    Christina,
    I have reread this piece several times and contemplated it for long periods of time – stirred it around in my head, and perhaps what comes out is: Does the word really matter as long as what one is doing, at this time in her/his life, matters to them and them alone – and fulfills them? Validation from loved ones can matter but otherwise why should it matter. The word “retirement” has a stigma that makes me cringe too but what if we feel so good in our life actions/choices that that word does not have a hold on us. I know that you are a word person so words are important to you – I respect that (I live with a word person too), and knowing that I am not exacting with words – I can completely understand that I may not understand – but is it possible that that word holds too much power?

    “I will use my elderhood as an opportunity for taking risk.” WOW, powerful sentence. Who ever knows you, just a little bit would never put the retirement word stigma on you. Everyone else – who give a flip.

    Thanks for the inspiration and for the generation of long thoughts in my head. It is a profound subject and personally so timely! Hugs

    • Christina Baldwin says:

      Jeanne, I so appreciate that you take time to contemplate and agitate, coming to clarity for yourself. Thank you also for the affirmation… I am glad my words accompany you in your journey into elderhood.
      Christina

  19. Mariana says:

    Dear Christina,
    As a new reader of your blog, and a contemporary, I resonated with your “unwillingness to withdraw from active life…to remove myself from service, I am not yet certain what I expect of myself, or what the world hopes I will step into for another ten years”.
    The word “retire” hasn’t entered my consciousness yet as I turn 69 next week and loving my part-time work and other activities. We ‘boomers’ are experiencing a chapter in our lives that has never in her/history been lived before. Given it is our longest chapter, retiring from life in the traditional sense, is somewhat alien to me. So many years ahead of us to contribute, to explore, and even reinvent ourselves. with thanks

  20. barbara stewart says:

    Hi Christina,

    I love the idea of the “Bridge” since we often stand so close to the edge, waiting to be a guided and given direction if we are willing to listen to the Universe (Angels)

    How often I have come to this place in and asked, now what am I going to do for the rest of my life. I see it as shifting gears, which always requires some time in “neutral” – contemplation.

    Once again looking for a purpose, so possibly the word
    Re-purposing might be a good fit.

    Wishing you the best, always, Barbara

  21. Connie Fenty says:

    Christina, I first heard you speak at Omega Institute some years ago and then asked you to take a look at the beginning of a travel memoir that I was working on shortly after turning 65. Much of the finished manuscript turned out to be reflection on this stage of my life and choices looming on the horizon. Now I find myself on the verge of turning 70. It seems fitting that I publish what I’ve written five years after starting and another milestone birthday in front of me. It will be my first book and in addition I plan to lead a sacred journey to England and Cornwall shortly after I cross that bridge that you referred to. And I too wonder what’s that next thing. I say we join forces and change the world. I know you will find your way.

    • Christina Baldwin says:

      Hello Connie, I remember our interaction and am glad you are now going to publish your reflections–yes to joining forces and changing the world–which we have been doing all along, it seems, for better and for worse. Yes to finding our ways.

  22. Fleur says:

    I am in my early 60s, and two years ago when two beloved women in their early 90s passed away, I realised that I was fast approaching the ‘elder’ generation. But with my uncle (92) recently stating he was aiming for 100, and the realisation that I may still have more than one third of my life to lead, ‘retirement’ is a taboo word in my vocabulary. I feel I haven’t reached my ‘prime’; there are many more adventures that I want to embrace. Yes, writing and mining my lived experience for material, is certainly high on the agenda. Reframing, refreshing, renewing, reinvigorating are the words for this new reality!

  23. Deb Lund says:

    What a blessing for us that you are more in residence! Watching you pioneer through your life, in constant evolution and sharing, offering your hand to those ready to take the next step, it’s obvious there would be no “retirement.” I’m guessing we can expect more invitations for transformations, more nudges to go deeper, to be clearer, to pick up our share of the tasks of pioneering, and to always strive to lead in true Christina style by example and word. Thanks for the gift you are to me.

  24. Dear Christina,

    I am inspired by your blog post. I was drawn to you by my dear friend Nan Collie who spoke with gratitude about you and your work. I want to offer you the Spanish word for retirement: “jubilar.” When my husband transitioned from earning a living to living the next phase of his life communing with nature, hiking, flyfishing, and painting landscapes, we joyfully exclaimed that he was “jubilating.”

    Warmly,
    Cindy Williams Gutierrez
    Poet/Playwright/Producer/Educator/Seeker

    • Christina Baldwin says:

      Gracias! I love this word… I am ready to jubilate–and fiercely in light of all the social justice opportunities facing us.

  25. Heather says:

    Hi all
    I am so pleased to have stumbled across this ‘Into the 70s’ page, thank you. I shall be 70 in January and it feels So Weird…someone today spoke of someone being ‘an elderly lady in her 70s’ and I so feel not ready to be considered elderly yet! When I was married I always said ‘I shall never retire’ as I thought my homemaking was always going to continue. Then divorce, and full time work since 1995, plus ‘homemaking’ for student lodgers; ‘left work’ in 2012 (I avoid the ‘retirement’ word…sounds so slack!) and find myself so busy! I started some private TEFL teaching, then that dwindled as I now volunteer at least three days a week for my son’s business which is a whole other story, as he was very seriously ill 16 years ago, has pulled himself forward and deserves all the support I willingly give him. Yet others are ‘slowing down’ and talking of, sometimes it feels, ‘allowing’ themselves to age. I AM chronologically older. But I DEFINITELY intend to continue ‘pioneering’ through my life and being ‘awake’ for as long as I have ‘heart and meaning’ to fire my engine! Lots of love to all and thank you, Christina xxxHeather. UK

  26. Claire Griffith says:

    In September I turned 70 and I was surprised that I was more active than ever. I started my own company at 64 and at 70 we have decided to expand the company. Not less work – more! It helps me change my focus from living in “what if” to the “why not”. And – thanks to you, my journal writing group selected Storycatchers to prod our memoirs into reality. Today is Chapter 10. Thanks so much for mentoring 15 women who have shared their stories, found value and connection with them creating a vital path forward. As Spock says Christina, “Live Long and Prosper”! Love Claire

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