I’m newly retired.
Today was rough. All day.
Didn’t want to get up, semi-awake, my mind become a subatomic particle collider of memories, facts, people – confused, whirling, disoriented.
Got up, had coffee, but couldn’t write. Didn’t want to. Didn’t want to do anything.
Searched the emails, rummaged through the morning paper for something of interest. Nothing.
This house is dark in the morning. Not just at 5:00 a.m. It’s dark all morning. No sun. And the skies are cloudy. Gray. Like my spirit. Purposeless. Alone. Disinterested. Blah.
It’s the first taste of retirement. The congregation is gone, or, rather, I am gone from them. I miss them. I am without role. Without work. Without routine. No longer a shepherd. Nor am a sheep within a flock. Adrift. Aimless. Dead to what was. Unclear about what is or will be. I am alone.
Except for Barclay who doesn’t get it. He want’s to play. It’s just another day. Go out. Come in. Get the ball. Drop the ball at Dad’s feet. Play ball with Dad, eat food, play some more, go out, wonder why Dad isn’t paying attention and why we’re not getting exercise when there’s such nice snow outside.
Barclay drove me nuts today. Not his fault. He’s a dog. He knows nothing about retirement, nothing yet about aging, about hearing loss, about depression.
Barclay knows nothing about the Mayflower, the Pilgrims, the Puritans, the Congregationalists or the Presbyterians. He’s lucky. He carries no existential guilt, no multigenerational trauma, only the Now. Only the present. Sit. Roll Over. Get the ball. Heel. Treat. “Good Dog.”
I realize that today is Veterans Day and I think of my father, the Chaplain who shipped out for the South Pacific when I was a year-and-a-half old. I hear the train whistle near our house here in Chaska and remember being on the train with my mother after his ship left Los Angeles, the horror of being alone hearing and watching my mother’s inconsolable sobbing in the birth of the night train on the cross-country trip home to Boston. I hear the whistle and feel forlorn.
I remember years later being in the Lebanon Valley Hospital at the age of 14, two hours from home, and 15-minutes from losing a kidney from a football accident. It didn’t strike me as strange then that my parents weren’t there. Strange that their absence didn’t strike me as strange. I just thought they were busy. Now I wonder why they were not there. My mother didn’t drive. Why did my father not come until he arrived a week later with the ambulance driver to take me home? I was alone, forlorn, and thought it was normal. What could have been more important at the church or in the family than being there for their son who was in serious condition in a distant hospital?
The role – his robe – defined my father until the end of his life. It defined him. For most of my adult life it defined me. Until the sullying of the robe and the eight years without it at the Legal Rights Center. At LRC I learned to live without the robe among the criminal defendants and the lawyers and community advocates who pled their cases before the court. I lived the life of a “retired” pastor, a shepherd without a flock.
It’s that time again. I am not unprepared for this thing called retirement. But I realize tonight: I’ve been there. I need no robe to be the person I am and always was. A Stewart, a Titus, and an Andrews with a long ancestral history of dealing with life and death, flight and fight, denial and courage, faltering faith and faithfulness, cruelty and kindness, beheading blocks and pardons.
It’s time for the pardon. Time to let go of the past. Time to let go of the robe. Time to be open to the freshness of a life as it was at the beginning: naked and glorious, crying out for meaning and the wonder of anything at all.
Tomorrow I write!
IT IS SEPTEMBER 29, 2021, a strange year that is the son of an even stranger year and, I suspect, is the father of an even stranger year. I went looking for the painting and I found your text, thank you for writing it, I hope you can read and understand me, I am using a translator because my English is unfortunately not good enough to write what I think. I guess I’ll never go through here again, so this message becomes a letter with no destination, like those bottles that shipwrecked people threw into the sea in the movies. I go on to say that my life is changing, each time they lead me to understand that I must ingratiate myself with loneliness and that at the end of the story I am alone, with myself and with no one else.
Dear Lobsang, Your time and effort to reply to a complete stranger encourages me to believe it may be more than just another ego trip. I needed that.
We are all shipwrecked, throwing and receiving bottles from other shipwrecked passengers. Sometime the notes offers wisdom. Other times they offer nothing of worth. And other times they make us alter our views of the world, one’s own self, the human condition as part of nature itself.
Thank you for putting your message in the bottle. The bottle landed on my side of the ocean and its note was read with care. Your conclusion of being alone “with myself and no one else” reminds me of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. You might also spend some time with Soren Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death.
Grace and Peace, Lobsang. Thank you.
A stroke in my 68th year pushed my transition into retirement. I had worked from age 12. I had always worked. It provided structure & purpose. I remembered “Man’s Search For Meaning.” Those who found meaning & purpose survived. I counseled folks into retirement for 20+ years. It isn’t retiring from but to. Finding new purpose is a gift.
Maintaining it after another stroke has presented a challenge. I enjoyed advocacy. Writing has become a challenge. Public speaking has ended. I have learned to ask for help. 4 of us gather every two weeks and remember when we could remember.
Fortunately we have younger friends who have been with us for a number of years who lead the charge, let us suggest, and cheer. We can grieve the loss of abilities remember the accomplishments and be grateful for friendships that have endured for 41 years
So in my 75th year purpose is changing and still here. Susan & I are cranking through our 49th year. Jesse, our Cavalier, has been conscripted. He likes our walks, loves blowing leaves, & cuddles. Be well my friend. Jim
Jim, this is touching. An understatement. I’ve not (yet) had a stroke, but I get what you’re saying. This is very meaningful to me and your other former McCormick classmates. I’m sure. Aging gracefully is my heart’s desire. THANK YOU!
Reblogged this on benbrilliant.com.
It was a day for sorting for you… and you did sort…. Be well.
Wise observation, Karin. I’m well. Thanks.
Gordon, in light of your blog and the fact you told Steve about Pasternak, I was reminded
of Pasternak’s poem: February: Take Ink and Weep. I have always been taken by his poetry. Enjoy your writings.
Thanks for the referral to Take Ink and Weep.
Don’t throw this piece away Gordon.
Gary, Not to worry. Thanks.
Considering you won’t be writing until tomorrow, I’d say this is pretty powerful and moving non-writing piece today.
Thanks, Mona.Have to get the writing in before Barclay gets up in two minutes! -:)
Don’t fight it. You will get to where you know where you are and who you are now. Barclay may be a pain but thank God for him. He gives you purpose for today!!! Thinking of you.
Hi, Cynthia. The juices are flowing this morning. Exploring the relationship between Russian novelist Boris Pasternak and his painter father Leonid. Have you read Pasternak or seen Leonid’s art?
Nice. Uninterested, not disinterested. Tomorrow you write again!
Steve, I’m writing about Boris Pasternak and his father Leonid. Have you spent any time with Boris, the Russian novelist, or his father, Leonid, the painter and illustrator?