Tales of Retirement
Elementary School Teacher
Practising Retirement – July 2016 to September 2017
Here I am at the end of fourteen months of practice retirement, and I’m sure neither how I feel about what I’ve experienced, nor how I feel about the upcoming permanent event.
Before beginning this third installment of my year-off story, I reviewed my contributions from December 2015, six months before the end of the school year, and October 2016, two months into my year off. In the first I wrote:
Many people have asked me what plans I have made for my year off, and my answer is always the same – none. I tell people I do not want to be tied down with plans; that I want to be free to do whatever strikes me in the moment. These things are true, but I think there is a bigger, scarier truth lurking just behind my cover story. There are things that are part of my long-time, ever-since-I-was-a-kid, this-is-at-the-core-of-my-inner-self, dreams that I am afraid to butt up against with nowhere else to turn. Because I might fail.
In the second I wrote:
So where am I in the process – what have I learned? The joy is in the freedom and, when the period of freedom is limited as it is for me during this year, there is no obligation to have a long-term plan – I do not need to find purpose other than living day-to-day. When I retire for real, I know I will have an impulse to formulate a plan, but will it be right to do so?
I think it’s fair to say I went into my year off with equal measures of trepidation and confidence. I knew what I wanted to come at, but I wanted to come at those things sideways. Head-on collisions can be cathartic, but they don’t always leave us standing.
Avoiding the cauldron
One of my great pleasures is participating in a choir. I was deeply surprised when I realized I enjoy performing major works such as requiems and oratorios. I enjoy sacred music for the music, not the sacredness, but I am nevertheless often struck by what I and my choir-mates are offering to our audience. Where was I? Oh, yes – head-on collisions can be cathartic, but they don’t always leave us standing. In particular, I am always struck by Handel’s use in The Messiah of Malachi, Chapter iii, verse 2: “But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire.” I cannot abide colliding headlong into the moment of my retirement. If I could just lean a bit to one side, perhaps some of the heat would radiate away from me and I will slide out of the refiner’s cauldron and carry on into retirement intact. I understand the metaphor of refinement – the removal of impurities. Admirable. But I would rather avoid the heat – I’m heading into retirement, after all. No head-on stuff if I can avoid it.
However, I don’t want to avoid all the heat. I do have aspirations. I just don’t like to fully acknowledge them publicly. Or even to myself.
Those big ever-since-I-was-a-kid, this-is-at-the-core-of-my-inner-self dreams
So, what have I learned about having the gift of time always at my disposal? Well, I have most certainly learned there are endless opportunities to distract oneself from the things that are important. I have accepted that I have aspirations and I notice when I am goofing off, turning aside from that ever-so-casual saunter down the path to where I hope to arrive. Of course, my whole being is defined by the continual expansion of my capacity for goofing off. But not all goofing off is goofing off – one form is purposeful. Examples are the woodworking I enjoy, the time I spend in our various woodlots (always a meditation more than a task), the reading I do, and the retirement businesses I regularly invent (with no particular expectation of launching them – they are more an entertainment for myself and my friends). Other forms of goofing off are not so purposeful, such as the execrable computer word games I play. Such activities are how I am diverted from the path I would rather amble along.
I have in fact butted up against some of those big ever-since-I-was-a-kid, this-is-at-the-core-of-my-inner-self dreams, and the experience was neither as daunting nor as unsuccessful as I feared. I know that I’ll be able to continue down that path, trepidously for certain, but down it nonetheless, when I fully retire.
So, I now know I have aspirations for when I retire for real. I have no great expectations of myself – I would like to take a few more steps in the direction I have gone, and see where they lead me. The real work will be to maintain a modicum of discipline so I can actually see if I have the ability to achieve what I hope to achieve.
Annoying my sister-in-law
I suppose I have not actually said what my aspirations entail. Allow me to beg your forgiveness and not discuss specifics. This will annoy my sister-in-law no end – she who asked for details when I wrote in my first article those many months ago. I told her then, as I am stating now, that I am not prepared to say. Too dangerous – someone may remember.
So where am I today? I have the great gift of actually looking forward to returning to my job of teaching in an elementary school. It is a gift to spend my days with young and very young children who love learning for its own sake. I hope when I finally do retire fully I will be able to take on some of the challenges I seem to have set myself up for. As long as I can sort of do that without letting anybody know…