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.