Retirement – la petite mort


Tales of RetirementTales of Retirement


By Anson Laytner
Interreligious Initiative Program Manager,
School of Theology & Ministry, Seattle University
Retired April 2015




The French call an orgasm “la petite mort” but, as much as I like orgasms, I think “la petite mort” ought to refer to retirement.

You see, the other week I had an opportunity to visit my old workplace.  It made me feel like I had died and come back as a ghost.

The buildings looked the same; I recognized familiar faces among the students, faculty and staff.  But I was struck by the fact that everything was going along just fine without my presence and participation.

The program I used to manage now was being run by someone else; the relationships I had cultivated now were being nurtured by another person; the alliances I had forged now involved other people.  Life and work flowed on without me.

In truth, it was as if I had died, gone to heaven, and returned to earth for a quick visit.  Initially, it was very disconcerting – and depressing – to feel so unessential in a place where I once had played such an integral role.



Retirement gave me an intimation of my mortality.  Going back to my old workplace was a blow to my ego but it also helped me put my life, and my life’s work, into a better perspective.  As the song says: “All we are is dust in the wind…” or as Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) put it: “Vanity of vanities!  All is vanity!  What real value is there for a person in all the labor that he does beneath the sun?”

Actually, this is not a depressing thought but a corrective, even inspirational, one.  All too often while we are working, we yearn for more time for ourselves or to be with our loved ones; time to focus on what really matters in life.  “If only I had more time,” is the mantra of the working person.  Now, in retirement, we have that time.

Unlike death, retirement, la petite mort, affords us the time and opportunity to resurrect or reincarnate ourselves as often as we care to, so that we can add significance and meaning to our days.

So I continue to ask myself “How am I going to spend my remaining time on this planet?

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