"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Sunday, November 24, 2013


Retirement has become a regular topic of conversation in our household. I bring it up. Often. Walt, who could retire in another year and a half, loves his days as a teacher of math to middle school kids. He got his 35 year pin a couple of years ago, and he seems to gain more satisfaction with his job every year. I'm really grateful for that. Because it's not his retirement I'm wanting. It's mine.

I feel much like I did when I was twelve. I can barely see that girl across the half-century gap that separates us, but I remember her unhappiness. No longer a child, not quite a teenager, not wanting to be there (wherever that was), but not sure where exactly she did want to be. Adulthood beckoned like big city lights, offering freedom, independence, adventure unrestricted by authority. Childhood had not been so great, but a stubborn part of her held out hope it wasn't too late to recover at least some tendrils of the uncomplicated joy she believed she'd missed out on.

She would look in the mirror and be confused by what she saw. Still expecting the braids and bangs and freckles that had defined her younger face, not yet able to see the sophisticated beauty she hoped her adult face would bring, nothing seemed quite right. A seventh-grader, barely surviving the seas of junior high after the quiet pond of elementary school (which she longed to be away from), she endlessly compared herself to flashing schools of town girls. They seemed confident, comfortable, and oh so worldly. Everything she was not.

Caught between the past and the future, the present offering nothing her soul longed for, she waited. She made a friend. She resisted her family. She wrote and read her way into her deeper truer self.

Fifty years later, retirement beckons in the same way adulthood once did. I see retired friends enjoying freedom, and exploring new adventures with energy I get to experience only one month out of every year. I'm at the end of a career I never expected to practice for so long and which has never fit quite right, like a beautiful dress bought one size too small. With the stubborn hope that has sustained me over the decades, I start every new school year searching for spiritual gifts and some answer that will finally make that dress fit.

Looking in the mirror is just as confusing as it was all those years ago. While my face never did morph into sophisticated beauty, it did become a friendly face that people often believed they'd seen before and felt comfortable with. A pretty face with an easy smile. And she's still in there, that younger adult, just harder to find behind the wrinkles and jowls and eyes that show everything whether I want it revealed or not.

I want to do more than just wait out these next few years. It might be only two. It might be three. Or it might be more depending on the bottom line financially. But unlike when I was twelve, there is not the luxury of the appearance of unlimited time. However, maybe I can borrow from the wisdom that kept her safe and whole enough to get to the freedom and independence she sought:

Rely on friends for comfort and fun and true mirroring. Resist whatever seeks to kill dreaming and hope. Embrace the one thing that has remained constant from the time squiggles on a page became a magic door; read and write the way through.


DJan said...

This is truly beautiful and powerful, Deb. You will make the right decision, and it will come around one day, either soon or not so soon. Looking at that picture of you as a girl, I can see that time has hewn a marvelous and unique beauty out of the early You. I am so grateful for your friendship and I look forward to your continued writings. I am thankful for your presence in my life. :-)

Midlife Roadtripper said...

A beautiful post. I always figured once you made it through youth and finding a career that the rest of your life just fell into place. No more decisions to be made. Only after watching my parent's did I discover one's entire life is an unknown journey. Rather daunting when looked at in that manner. Yet, exciting also.

I liked how you wrote about teaching - that you always felt you were in a dress one size too small. I understand that - the yearning to know what one might find more satisfying.Discovering something more. I know it is not your point, but I'm certain you are a most excellent teacher.

Linda Reeder said...

That twelve year old could easily have been me. I never fit quite right in my family or my school or even later in my job as a teacher. I did all of them well, but I was not supremely happy and there was always a longing.
I was satisfied in two areas of my life, motherhood and retirement. It took me a while to change gears in retirement, but now I notice that the longing is gone. When I once in a while get that restless feeling, I plan a day trip for some fun and diversion. Am I ever content? I'm not sure. But I'm as close to it as I have ever been. Oh, and the motherhood thing just keeps going on, as you may have noticed from my blog. :-)
I don't know your age, so I can't say you should jump ship now and not spent your precious years feeling trapped. But I do know that you will like retirement once you get there, and it you are anything more like me, you will want the timing to be right. I know I had things I needed to have in place first. So do it your way, whatever that turns out to be.

patricia said...

You are almost there! You will be retired before you know it, and you will be gallivanting all around, lunching with friends and writing yourself silly. I can't wait. It's gonna be awesome. =)

BLissed-Out Grandma said...

When I finally was able to retire, I chose the date on which COBRA health insurance would cover until Medicare kicked in. Not for me; I was already old enough. But hubby is five years younger. Bottom line, I know the eagerness and longing that takes hold. I thought about taking some other job just for a change, but I don't see you just "killing time." Like DJan, I believe you will come to a good decision. I wish you satisfaction and happiness and pleasurable writing on your journey.

Terri Tiffany said...

Yes, that day and time will come when you know you must leap and discover a different way. It will be interesting to read about it!

Retired English Teacher said...

Wow! Deb, you have overwhelmed me on so many levels with this beautiful reflection. First of all, I felt so less alone when I saw the twelve year old you. You look just like I did. Then you write about the "flashing schools of town girls," and I knew that you and I had the same fears as we compared ourselves with others.

Then, you speak of a career that fit like a dress to small that you keep trying to make fit. Thankfully, I don't feel that way about my career, but I do think I have felt that way about other parts of my life.

Retirement is such a huge decision. I have loved and hated retirement. I must admit that I have never fully adjusted to no having an income and that one aspect of retirement alone has nearly ruined the rest of it for me. I have a pension. It is a good one, but I have not adjust to living on it and believe I retired too early.

Your last paragraph rings with clarity and truth. I think I need to print it out and post it in my journal. And, I must remember to "resist whatever seeks to kill dreaming and hope." Hugs. I love you. Keep on writing.

Linda Myers said...

I remember feeling just that way, "waiting for life to start". Both the young you and the now you!

I can tell you are a gifted teacher even though the dress doesn't quite fit. My wish for you is that the time will pass quickly until your days are entirely yours.

lily cedar said...

I feel like I've spent my life waiting as well, waiting to grow up, waiting to finish school, waiting for my children to grow up, waiting for everything. I should probably stop waiting and life huh?

I have nine more years left before I retire and everyday I work with people who have had their lives turned upside down by cancer. Sometimes they remind me of what's important and sometimes I get bogged down in life. Thank you for the reminder. Do what you love woman! That's what I want too.

kario said...

Sending all my love and light. It is so hard to wish to be somewhere other than where we are. I wish I had the formula for acceptance that leads to bliss, but for now I'll just surround you in love.


I can't urge you enough to retire. My husband did and was retired for over 20 years, years where we were able to spend time together, take little trips, visit our children. He's gone now, just last week and I don't regret a moment of that retirement.
Hugs and blessings on your decisions.

Sandi said...

I reread this post two or three times before settling on what/how I wanted to respond, and kept coming back to your last sentence, "Embrace the one thing that has remained constant from the time squiggles on a page became a magic door; read and write the way through."

Yeah, I think the written word, whether yours or someone else's, is what keeps the desire to live in the moment juices flowing. Reading and writing is how I cope with the chaos of this world, and how I've always coped.

I loved that you shared your 7th grade picture, and can see the grown up beautiful face that I love so much, especially in those eyes that tell all. :)

I don't have a school picture between 4th grade and 7th, as my living arrangements were a little bit unsettled, (in 7th grade we moved three times!) I've only seen a couple snapshots during those years, and I look as unsettled and scared as I remember feeling. It's a holy wonder we survived 7th grade!

The between times are challenging, and these years are the worst of the between, on so many levels. I'm right there with you, wishing for a miracle that will solidify enough cash flow to travel til I drop in retirement, and that retirement can't come soon enough. But, as you and I have already hashed out before, future travel $$ is why we are still taking home the steady paycheck!

Right now, the carrot I'm dangling in front of my face (and what helps me put on a happy face M - F) is Italy. Sound like a plan?