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It may be my own outdated stereotypes of the word that are getting stirred up, but my unabridged Random House Dictionary of the English Language informs me of the following definitions: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.
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.
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.
Anyway you want.
Let me know your thoughts.