Walt is back on the clock today. My work friends have been on the clock since last week. Kids start back to school tomorrow or Wednesday.
The summer has been long, relaxed, full of small adventures. Hikes. Friends. Family. New sights. Reading on the patio while warm breezes and Toby play around me. Everything one could hope for in a summer. And it's over now. Even the weather has gone from summer to fall overnight.
All summer I've answered the question, "How does it feel to be retired?", with "It's summer. My retirement hasn't really started yet."
Today is the day. I am retired. I am not losing sleep over whether I'm ready for kids tomorrow. I haven't spent the last two weeks setting up a classroom, sitting in meetings, shopping for sticky notes and new read alouds and cool borders. I don't have a new first day dress. I'm not dreading open house tonight, and I'm not excited either to see old friends and meet new ones. I'm not exhausted already, with all of summer's accumulated healing and energy lost in the frustration of facing moment by moment so much wrong I have no way to right.
I. Am. Retired.
I am in charge of my life in a way I've never been before. My choices are limited only by my imagination and my energy and the resources at hand. The list of possibilities is long. I don't know where to start. What do I want the most?
All summer my seventeen year old self has been close by. She was driven to college around this time of year to begin her freshman year. Her parents were in the front seat of the family Rambler station wagon, and she was crammed in the back with her three teen-aged brothers, as they had been for every outing of her childhood. She sat next to the window in deference to her frequent car sickness, watching the known world slip away.
It was not a happy occasion. The tension was thick as the cigarette smoke from her mom's Pall Malls. Mom and Dad had expected her to go to a community college and live at home. Her high school counselor (who just happened to be the mom of her best friend) helped her get admitted to and scholarships for this small private college a couple of hours away from her home. All summer she'd lived with her parents' stony silent anger, every preparation for going away poisoned by her betrayal of her parents' wishes.
She was both terrified and thrilled as they pulled in front of her dorm. So eager to be away from her family and the pain and shame, and to begin her new life. A new life in which she was certain she'd prove herself to be a strong and capable adult. She believed her family was just as happy to be rid of her, and it wasn't until this summer that it occurred to me that Mom might have been sad to leave her only daughter. Might have been afraid for her.
As it turns out, those fears were justified. Seventeen. Small town. Farm girl. Sheltered in that way of families who don't want the world to know their business. Smart, but completely unprepared for the choices and freedoms she faced. Refusing to ask for help, because that meant weakness, and she had much to prove.
All summer that scared seventeen year old has worried about today.
Of course today is very different from that day 46 years ago. I am not running away from anything, and I'm not needing to prove anything. I don't feel alone. Or afraid.
I do feel - what? Grateful. Deeply grateful. Overwhelmed - where do I start? A little at sea - the choices swirling and crowding, making a clear path impossible to see. And so I start where I know for certain I will find myself and answers, by putting words on the page. I start by keeping my promise to myself - I will write my way into my future, with no expectation beyond the magic that has always been there when meaning reveals itself in those words.
Day one. I am retired. I am happy. I am blessed. I am.