Friday, June 28, 2013

The "R" Word

On Tuesday night I attended a delightful party for my brother-in-law, Sam, who turned 66. It was also his last day of work. Once he turned in his keys he was officially retired. Friends and family came to wish him well on his double celebration.

There must have been close to 30 people there that evening. We spilled out of the house on to the deck and into the garden where umbrellas and a tent had been set up. I moved from group to group, getting caught up with old friends and making new acquaintances. Most of the people there, with the exception of Sam's children/step-children and the grandkids, were at or near retirement age. So there was no shortage of like-minded conversation going on.

I met one lovely, older woman who said that she hoped Sam would be as happy in his retirement as she had been. She had taken an early retirement from IBM 20 years ago and had never regretted one day or had one moment of boredom. She tried to get a swim in at the Y every day, did a great deal of sewing and other needlework for friends and family gifts, read a lot, worked in her garden, and often just enjoyed sitting in silence and becoming one with the world around her. She was active in her church and generally was in good health. I told her that being only semi-retired (working 3 days a week), I totally understood where she was coming from and longed for the day when I could finally call myself a full-time retiree, having the time to pursue my interests and learn new ones.

So many folks in our age group that I meet are afraid of retirement. For some it is a financial issue and unfortunately in our current economy it is true that many will have to work longer than they had planned in order to pay the bills. However I meet people all the time who believe that once they retire, they are done, that old age and death will come crashing down on them like a giant wave and take them away. I always want to ask these individuals if there isn't anything that they have ever wanted to do, or wanted to learn, or wanted to experience, but have put it off because of work and family commitments. Nine out of ten will admit that there is. Then I ask them, "then why don't you do it?"

The "R" word I am referring to in the title of this post is not "retirement," but, "Regret," with a capital R. I can't think of a worse ending to a life spent taking care of others than to regret all the things they never did or accomplished for themselves. They regret not taking that trip, learning that skill or craft, taking up that hobby, finding that long-lost love, taking that first step outside of their comfort zone and not only learning to fly, but to soar. Closing ourselves off from the world because we've reached a certain age, or because our employers have taken our keys and ushered us out of the door is a choice, not an inevitability. Sure, there are things about getting older that we won't have a choice about like the fact that our bodies are slowing down, our hair is getting grey, and the wrinkles are going to appear sooner or later. Everything else is a choice: where we go, what we do, what we eat, how we take care of our bodies, our minds and our spirits. I don't want to have one moment of regret when the time for my transition comes. I want to look back at my life with a big smile on my face that says "I did it all, and I did it my way."

My latest choice is to learn how to become proficient with a computer. I want to learn to create newsletters and websites, Skype with my grandsons and friends across the country, and all the other neat things a computer can do. I also have paths yet to be hiked, lessons on cooking with tofu yet to be learned, and a host of other things that keep my mind and spirit alive and engaged. I'm looking forward to getting those 3 days a week back so I can say with relish, and not regret, "yes, I'm retired, and I love it."

So what have you always wanted to do? Promise me, and yourself, no regrets!

And so it is.