"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

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Year Two Begins

Facebook and the news are full of back-to-school this week. Walt met his new classes yesterday. My former teammates met theirs on Tuesday. This week marks the beginning of my second year of retirement. I feel tugs of something now as I sit in a quiet house looking out on a quiet yard on a cool quiet gray day. It's not sadness exactly. Or even nostalgia. This is the time of year when my whole being vibrates with longing for some unknown possibility. It's like the wall between what is and what can be is thinnest in the fall.

I signed up for Medicare yesterday. The process was easy and pain free. It took 15 minutes at the most. Then I went to the dentist to have whitening trays made. That took longer, mostly because the person making the trays has become my friend over the thirty years or more I've been seeing her when I go in for my checks. I also went to yoga and then walked 6 miles, 4 with a friend who is also retired. We both turn 65 this fall and so our conversations are full of how to navigate aging with as much grace and as little suffering as possible. The entire day focused on creating an end-of-life that is as full and alive as possible.

The wall between life and death grows thinner, and more obviously so, with each passing year.

The distance between my working life and this new retired life feels so much greater now than the actual time that's passed.

A year ago I was overflowing with joy and relief. Every day felt like a gift that I created as I went. For a while I did little that felt constructive: read, walked, sat on my patio. Lots of stillness. Lots of moments spent absorbing whatever was on offer. Hummingbirds chittering at the feeder. Two new cats. Fixing a dinner with full attention and care. Toby walks fully awake and present - no longer used as a processing time of a difficult day, but now a small pilgrimage into holy territory where kingfishers and eagles and salmon and deer and coyotes reign. Where Toby's joy and energy seemed a reflection of my own.

Slowly my days took on more purpose. A yoga practice established and maintained. Time with friends that filled me with light and energy and gratitude. Afternoons spent with books and cats and no pressure to do anything else. Travel - Vashon, Idaho, Tucson, Hawaii, Malibu, Grand Canyon, Vancouver Island. What a marvel that is. I look at the list and can't quite believe that that gets to be my life.

There were shadows. Of course there were. The biggest being my middle brother's Parkinson's diagnosis, his rapid decline, the awareness that whatever was happening to him was more than Parkinson's. As painful as the loss of the relationship we had when he was whole, is the loss of relationship that is the result of other siblings' choices around his illness. And then there is the ongoing challenge of recreating a marriage relationship in older age, in retirement, when our paths are no longer parallel.

Tears well often these days. Some are sadness, grieving the losses of sibling and spousal connections. Some are deep gratitude for the life of choice and privilege I lead right now. Sometimes in yoga my throat will close and my eyes fill for no good reason. So much feeling looking for an outlet. Without the distraction and fatigue of work, I experience so much more of what I feel.

For every thing I accomplished last year, there is another item on my list of things to do that didn't get done. I didn't get the inside of my house painted. I didn't get closets cleaned. I didn't write nearly as much as I intended. I didn't get thin. I didn't volunteer or sign up for mediation training or take classes. I didn't offer classes. I didn't get my pictures organized.

I care less about the didn't-get-dones than I thought I might. They are all things I'd like to accomplish at some point, but only one item has a certain urgency behind it. The writing. Always the writing. Some days I wish it would go away, that voice that urges and whispers and coaxes. Can't I just walk away from that part of myself? Isn't it done? A possibility that was never fully realized? And I suppose the answer could be yes. But then how would I know what anything means? How would I know myself, my soul, my purpose? And if it's so important - and it surely seems to be - then why do I resist the voice so strongly?

Last year I was a prisoner set free. This year I'm less dazzled by the endless variety of choices, the bright colors, the freedom to choose whatever I want. I am more overwhelmed by the possibilities, more aware of the time limitations, wanting to find a balance. Frustrated that I really can't do it all, all at once.

I was in Powell's last spring with my friend, Mary. We were there to hear Krista Tippett speak. As we wandered the store, looking at books, we talked about authors and titles we were drawn to, ones we'd read, and ones we wanted to read. Mary bought a Gloria Steinem title. I bought the book Krista Tippett was there to promote. The next day, Mary sent me an inspiring and relevant quote from the Gloria Steinem book. I replied that maybe I should have bought that book, too. She responded that I can't read all the books.

I can't read all the books.

It's a pretty obvious truth, but one that all these months later still stops me in my tracks. Because I can not only not read all the books, I probably can't even read all the books I want to read. And if that's true, then it's also true that I won't visit all the places in the world I want to see. It's true that the unfulfilled dreams of my 20 and 30 and 40 year old selves will remain unfulfilled. I could act on them, but my 65 year old self would not find them so satisfying. And it's likely even all my current dreams won't find their way to reality.

Which only means I need to make careful, thoughtful, mindful choices. With my reading. With my travel destinations. With my life decisions. But not too careful, either. There needs to be room for spontaneity, surprise, and acceptance of life coming from left field.

There was a moment in the Canyon this summer. We were floating on bright green water under benevolent blue skies dotted with story book clouds. The temperature was still friendly. My new friend, Shelly, sat next to me. No part of my body hurt. No worries plagued my brain. The thought wandered through, "This is happy." I breathed it in, and breathed it out. The River carried me on and into the next moments in time.

Last week I went north to help my brother sort through his possessions in preparation for his move into assisted living. We sat on his couch in a living room that less than two years previously I'd helped him decorate. Boxes everywhere. Piles of papers. Pieces of random furniture blocking our path. The air full of the smell of an un-housebroken dog, dust, and despair. He seemed so disconnected from the loss. I seemed to be feeling both my own losses and his. The loss of freedom, the loss of his dreams, the loss of a home we'd worked so hard together to create. And as I looked at his unsmiling, unshaven face I wanted to weep. I breathed it in, and breathed it out. We got busy and packed and sorted.

I can't read all the books. I can't travel to everywhere. I can't stop bad things from happening. But I can be fully present for each moment, savor the breath and the life and the possibilities. I have this moment, and probably the next few. If I am able to hold each with gratitude and wonder, then it won't matter quite so much how I spend my moments and minutes and months. In full mindfulness, the thinness of the wall enriches what is rather than diminishing it.

And so this new year begins.


Linda Hoye said...

September feels like the beginning for me too. I'm committing to myself to slow down and let go of some things that feel burdensome. Since I retired 2 1/2 years ago I've kept myself busy--maybe too busy. Starting now I'm turning my focus toward living a more creative life and letting go of busyness. That's the plan anyway.

Happy September!

Linda Reeder said...

For you, your second year, for me my eleventh. As I read of your thoughts and your urgings, I stopped to analyze my own. I find that the sense of urgency is gone. No longer do I have to read all of the books, travel to all of the places. True, Tom and I have had some amazing travel experiences. And I have read a lot of books. And fought some family battles, and mourned a few losses.
We still have a few trips in us, but maybe not to foreign lands anymore. Learning still takes place. The struggles ahead will most likely be physical, as I deal with the deterioration that arthritis is inflicting on my body. I keep moving, but I may need to seek medical advice soon.
But life is still a joy, and the freedom of choice that retirement brings is still a daily blessing.
I wish as much for you.

Sandi said...

Ah Deb, I do believe you nailed this feeling of not only not being able to read all the books, or travel to all the places, but that tiny breath of air, that breathing in and out, that tells our souls, "Be glad for what is" because, really, it's quite a lot.

Year two feels calmer, yet more purposeful, at least for me. I also didn't get any of those things done, as my to-do list was nearly identical to yours. Yet, other things got done, that needed to be done, or that became more important to get done. And it is ok.

I'm hoping you'll heed the call to write, as your words are a treasured gift to me, and so many others.

Looking forward to our writing time in Vashon together! As always, I'm happy to drive! Love you and this piece!

yaya said...

I'm sure teachers always think of September as the beginning of the year. I know I always do and I'm not a teacher. It just seems like the perfect time and weather for excitement, starting over, or starting projects. I feel it more than in January! I'm looking forward to having the choices you've mentioned. Just a few more years until I can. I love reading your perspective about retirement. It gives me hope and also many questions to mull over. You may not be able to read all the books but I think you'll read the ones most important as well as travel to the most important places for your life. Prayers for your brother. As a healthcare worker I see the challenges of that disease. Hugs to you and good vibes for making choices this new year!

Linda Myers said...

This is so good, Deb. I feel the same way in some paragraphs.

I didn't get thin. But I did say yes. So far, you seem to be doing the same.

It's all a gift.

Colleen Bender said...

Beautifully written by a beautiful woman, inside and out! I especially love your quote, "I breathed it in and breathed it out." So calming and peaceful. Love you and love your writing! Amazing!

PS Staying home for 10 years with the kids, I cannot tell you how many projects I thought that I could complete and most of them I have yet to start. They'll still be there waiting until I am finally ready to begin them or they may sit there forever in which case, they probably were not TOO important!

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

Retirement really didn't fit me until the second year. Transitions come hard and I mourned too long about a life that was gone. I am fine now and embrace all the new joys and handle the disappointments as best I can. This time in life is not scheduled and it can't be planned as before, but it is a blessing and the road of life, though bumpy at times, is mine to explore.

Mrs. Riley said...

So insightful. You can't read all the books. And if you could, reading would no longer be so fulfilling. It would become burdensome. I love your life and I'm so glad you get to have your life! Six miles is a lot. Great work.

DJan said...

I also hope you will find the time to continue writing, since your words speak so directly to me I need to read them twice over to absorb them all. I have not read all the books, but I sure make a dent in them. And my traveling days are now behind me, except for the trips to visit family across the country, and a certain farmhouse on Vashon Island. My mother used to bring home books from the library by the boxfull, and she read them all. My memories of her are always with a book or a kitting project. You make me want to write about her as I read your words, Deb. Sending you mighty hugs until we are standing in the early morning light, in our jammies, on the porch with a cup of coffee to warm us. :-)

Kari Hall said...

I've missed that voice......

Midlife Roadtripper said...

" There needs to be room for spontaneity, surprise, and acceptance of life coming from left field."

So does this mean you will go eat Texas pit BBQ? Sit on a dock and study the stars? Sing the stars at night, are big and bright?

FYI, I didn't get thin either. We can ponder that.

Deborah Barker said...

May we all reach that point where we can say, "This is happy," and breathe it in and breathe it out. I loved accompanying you on that thought provoking journey Deb. I agree, all one can do is "be fully present for each moment".

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

If this post were the only thing you wrote this year, you would have written something profound and beautiful, something that almost certainly reaches every reader in one way or another. For what it's worth, I couldn't make any real progress on my Big Writing Project until about three years after I'd retired.

Linda said...

Very insightful. And I love your blog background, it is beautiful.

Sally Wessely said...

I'm just now reading this and like DJan, some of it I must read twice to absorb. Your words resonate with me even now when I am in my tenth year of retirement. I've returned to work and then regretted I gave up retirement. I almost returned to work again this year because of that longing for whatever it is that seems to be missing when we are no longer working.

We can't read all the books. We can't get all the writing done, but we can enjoy fully by being purposeful whatever reading or writing or dreaming we do get done. I had to make a very painful decision last year when it came to Vashon. I only had so much money for travel. I decided that I would not use my travel budget to be with you all because I knew there were other places and people I also needed to visit. I will miss you all so much.

I am very sorry to read about your brother. Yes, I think you are feeling the loss for both of you. Blessings, Deb.