When my dad became critically ill six months before his retirement, my ideas about my own twilight years abruptly shifted. I was glad my parents had done a lot of the international travel they had wanted before he got sick. But what if they’d stored up their wish list for after he retired? What if he’d succumbed to Guillain-Barre syndrome? Those few treacherous days of his weeks-long hospitalization convinced me to live life differently.
A year after my dad recovered, I flew to London with my daughter to visit my college roommate and her family. Since then a divorce and smaller budget has grounded me, but I’ve continued to take a “not-put-off-things” approach to life. No season lasts forever. I know my budget will allow travel again one of these days, and while I’m sticking close to home, I’ve crossed off yoga teacher training from the list and am transforming my backyard landscaping little by little.
I’ve been working from various flat surfaces in my home for the past several months as we all weather this challenging period. I am tremendously blessed to still have a job and be able to do it from the safety and comfort of my home. I am content to stay home with limited trips to the grocery, garden center, and drive-thru for ice cream.
As an introvert, I generally keep myself occupied with a stack of books,letters written to people who come to mind daily, and time spent in my yard. Most days I am content, but I must admit, every few weeks I feel a bout of boredom and restlessness strike.
Mid-pandemic, thoughts of retirement return. I read somewhere that anxiety stems from thinking about the future. Thinking about how the pandemic in the U.S. will play out and what my retirement years will look like are excellent examples of anxiety-inducing topics. Are these bouts of boredom and restlessness what retirement feels like? If so, this reconfirms my earlier thoughts about retirement: I can’t do it. I’m going to have to keep working. I don’t actually thrive with so much time on my hands. My novel remains unfinished. The tack strips that need to be ripped out of my basement floor still have to be tackled. I can’t use my pre-coronavirus excuse. I’ve had PLENTY of time.
I’m participating in a wellness challenge hosted by my employer’s human resources department. Each workday for a month, we get points for doing two of five wellness activities that are backed by science for improving outlook and well-being. Through this program, I am experiencing the benefits of daily meditation. This mindfulness practice soothes anxious thoughts by helping me observe rather than react to them. Writing this essay has been a form of meditation. As I work to type words on the screen and keep my train of thought on the tracks, I notice that I feel occupied, content, and unbothered by the passage of time. I am enjoying the music I’ve chosen to accompany me while I write and to hear the rain fall outside my window.
I watch how writing helps me move from anxious thoughts about the future to bringing me to the present where I am safe and well and blissfully occupied. I have walked away from this essay multiple times. On my walk to the laundry room, I heard more words form. I’m reminded by previous periods of uncertainty—like being 40 and divorced—that I’m up to the challenge of carving out a new chapter for myself. If I could do it then, and am coping through the isolation of pandemic living, I’ll be able to make something beautiful of my retirement when it comes.
As for my unfinished projects? They’ll get done when they get done—exactly on time.
|Back when a Saturday lasted forever and retirement was a lifetime away.|