Re-ordering how I live each day after a lifetime of accumulated habits has been so far the greatest challenge after retirement.
Retiring for some is kicking back in a lawn chair in summer or in the living room sofa in the winter, a drink or snack near at hand, the TV or iPad scrolling out virtual entertainment. For me, having enjoyed many opportunities to do this during my work life (I’ve been fortunate), retirement comes down to something new. It is an opportunity to really learn to live.
In Matthew 22:37, Jesus recommended loving his Father “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” To love God for me is to live God every moment. God is not in the firmament above or in the waters below it or deeper still in what the ancients called hell. God is nowhere but everywhere we are alive and living consciously in prayerful awe and wonder.
Retiring from a lifetime vocation is for me an opportunity to live as Henry Thoreau recommended in Walden:
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; of if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that is is the chief end of man here to ‘glorify God and enjoy him forever.'”
Like Thoreau I leave it to others to glorify God through prayer or other acts of piety and devotion. For me, to live in full awareness in each moment is to truly glorify the wonder of being alive. Heart, mind, and soul are just aspects of what I am and what I have to summon, nurture and apply to whatever experience comes my way—without reservations, not holding back, giving myself wholly to its moment.
Life after retirement is our final chance to live on the edge of wonder, “to front only the essential facts” that we study and tease from what we can begin to see are struggles we no longer have to create and endure. It’s a generous opportunity, if not to understand life, to know it in the depths of our being, know and let it be that we may intuit compassion and kindness and a type of loving we couldn’t know before.
Learning to step beyond ego, the way we experience all life from a reference point we have grown to insert where it does not exist, we may see our oneness with everything. What we do affects us all, humans and nonhumans, living and nonliving things—everything! Such is the power of being alive, power we find we’ve prodigally wasted from selfishness and ignorance.
In A Psalm of Life, another American, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, wrote:
“Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant! Let the dead Past bury its dead! Act—act in the living Present, heart within and God o’erhead!”
To retire from a lifetime vocation gives us this opportunity to live finally outside time and inside the essential facts of life. What is it to be alive and is it something of value? Is it even a thing outside of the experience? What is value? And can we know value beyond intellection, beyond what we can know?
As life peters down to its precious last years, we acknowledge that our apprenticeship has to end. It’s now or never that we plumb the depths of what life is, an endeavor we couldn’t have undertaken earlier when life had other demands. These last years are the best years of our life paid for by living to the extremities of what is possible to now confront what lies behind all appearances, to finally see not with our outer eyes or see with just our ears.
This at least is one way of looking at this phase of our lives. Amen.