Ahh retirement – a drawing back, as the etymology would have it, but from what? We are all encouraged to prepare for it years in advance but until it arrives it is still a stranger.
I never thought it had dimensions, or volume; I never thought it was a place, any more than I thought that night was a destination, or that day was a region. But, retirement having arrived, I am beginning to change my mind. It is still too early to see the colours, or feel the textures, however; I am merely conscious of an envelopment –as in being wrapped loosely in a kind of gauzy curtain through which I can almost make out shapes and, with effort, hear whatever passes by. It is a world of shadows though. Pre-forms. Almost-things. And although I still miss work, it is hard to truly miss something when it has only just disappeared.
There are no markers, of course -no signposts pointing out the route, or telling me where I am. I could be anywhere -but wherever it is, I keep getting congratulated on having arrived. I find this strange, to say the least. Even if the commendations are for having finished what I started, I am still confused. Are you ever finished anything? And what does that mean? Suppose, for example, you have enjoyed what is now over? Shouldn’t the the response be tempered? Wouldn’t the wisest policy be to enquire how the person feels about the change, before congratulations are offered? Maybe it’s sympathy or an understanding face that they really need.
Or maybe just encouragement would do the trick –reassurance that even a mirror image can look different depending on the light. Depending on the perspective.
Although this may be an ambitious project and beyond my skills, I would like to track the journey from its confusing start. I am not a travel writer, but a pilgrim searching for meaning. I seek to determine if retirement is the bud-filled spring of a new life, or the leaf-strewn autumn of an older, more familiar trail. Will it be an opportunity or the slow unravelling and disintegration of the one who started life with a mewling cry?
I fear Macbeth’s devastating appraisal of his future:
‘I have lived long enough. My way of life
Is fall’n into the sere, the yellow leaf,
And that which should accompany old age,
As honor, love, obedience, troops of friends,
I must not look to have, but, in their stead,
Curses, not loud but deep, mouth-honor, breath
Which the poor heart would fain deny and dare not.’
So is retirement a beginning, or an end? It matters….