There are at least a few hot-button reasons to feel guilty and worried. To wonder who on earth I think I am to take such a relaxed view of time and money, as well as heady concepts like success, obligation and the impact of even one human life. Some might suspect the cavalier attitude will bring me to ruin. They could be right. Am I somehow above such sweat and commerce, that bourgeois notion that money equals security, even contentment? Let’s face it, it’s more to the point that I am no longer a youthful dynamo dying to shine like a mega floodlight–so the pressure is off, right?
Except I was given pause by the over-sixty cashier yesterday, new to the store. He was congenial, appeared to be above average aptitude, and healthy-looking. I’d imagine he was a suit and wingtip guy at one point. Or a crunchy-granola, forward-thinking professor. And as I paid for my too-expensive groceries, I wanted to ask: “What are you doing here? Aren’t you retired yet?” If I had paused one more second, I may have crossed the line as I can be that curious.
Then I went home and wondered how I ended up retired in my own early sixties. This is a big issue with “Boomers”–more and more are working longer and longer. Yet I manage to not feel very disturbed about not being part of the club. Okay, I must be honest–nights tossing and turning when contemplating variable savings and whip lashed investments? Sure. I start to consider how to find and buy a smaller, creaky recreational vehicle that might work for long term housing. I obsess, from time to time, over a few debts not yet paid in full and up my payments three-fold. And I hold onto leather footwear and other good basics “just in case” I cannot buy more ever again. And all this despite my spouse still working full-time, at the likely pinnacle of his career. He loves his chosen field, though long hours and travelling are more draining as the years pass. When he recently had health issues that involved hospitalization, I panicked on a few levels–one being financial. Thought: Dear God, I really do need to get another job, guide me on this one! Just in case. The urgency passed, apparently. He got better. I am not rushing out the door, not even to some job that is from ten-to-two, three days a week.
I have not worked for a paycheck for about three and a half years. He hasn’t asked me to. In fact, when I bring it up–that there must be something, I might even make a pleasant greeter at the grocery– he shushes me. He says he’s glad I’m finally at home, writing daily as I always pined to do, taking care of numerous mundane and difficult tasks. It’s not that we couldn’t well use that extra income. We have significant and fluctuating needs at times and certainly those “wants” like all couples. We just manage alright without it. And that is good enough for now.
We live right on the edge of a wealthy enclave. I see many sleek, steel-grey-to-white-coiffed persons who haven’t stopped working. I cannot imagine why they would not. They slide into their Tesla/Jaguar/BMW or vintage Volvos every day and hit the road with brain primed with espresso, on go. I walk by these lovely houses every day, the ones such hard work have garnered, and wonder why more aren’t sitting on front porches or messing around with roses and weeds. It’s true many have gardeners. But aren’t they going to leave extra time so they can cover less agenda, more wishes? Not only live adventures in the Swiss Alps or moseying about in St. Bart’s or Reykjavik. I mean, just hanging out at home alone, or with friends and relatives. But it is said the more you have, the more you spend. Perhaps, also, the more you believe is ever needed. The competitive, heady business of acquisition cannot be done with, I suppose. But their material life is not mine. I admire their gardens and porches yet, too, our balcony holds its own charm with chairs and tables and nineteen pots of colorful flowers and pleasant views of trees, neighboring houses and active city streets beyond.
Still, a wraparound porch with landscaped yard would be a fine sit for contemplation. And I am not one to just sit. I apparently get a few things done stealthily. What on earth do I do all day now that I retired, another builder dweller asks. She never hears our TV –her constant companion– but does faintly hear classical music and maybe…jazz? I do seem to be move about, though. I ask if I am noisy but she shakes her head with a smile, says “Have a good day”, closes her door.
I tried it this week, doing nothing much the last couple of days–nothing that one would note as an accomplishment, even a small one. I have my trusty Moleskin Journal where I plan the upcoming week. Most days are packed just enough with writing, daily walks and other exercise, appointments, meeting up with family for one thing or another, household business and errands. You will notice I don’t mention getting together with my friends; they are among those who yet work forty hours a week. I feel intrusive and guilty when I call them during the week. They are bone-tired while I am bubbling over, wanting to catch up, make plans.
But for a couple of days, I more often sat and read. A lot. I am (we both are) a bibliophile–books line most walls where there isn’t furniture– and subscribe to at least a dozen magazines and journals so there is a plethora of reading material. I tend to read a few pages at a time, between laundry loads or waiting at appointments, while boiling water for iced tea. Usually before sleep. So I read long, without checking the clock, caught up on magazines so that I am now about done with June and July issues. Started a new mystery and a nonfiction book, read long enough to abandon the first and continue the second.
I also watched several episodes on Netflix of a Canadian series I love, “Heartland.” (My neighbor will be glad to hear of that–but it was late at night in bed.) I walked longer than usual, sometimes twice a day. I took more pictures during my walks. I rearranged the pots on the balcony, plucked dead blossoms. And I got up a few times after bedtime to revise things I had written, including the last post, as the errors and new ideas haunt me until I commit to them. That is a certain kind of work, I suppose, but it is overall pleasant effort put forth.
This all felt luxurious to me, perhaps a little wasteful of time. But the most fun and absolute least regretted (not one minute) was time with two of our five grandchildren. We went to city center for an outing yesterday.
First I took Avery (14) and Asher (10) out to lunch. The first place we had chosen was very crowded but Avery spotted a pizza place. The mini pizzas were perfect size, baked in a big wood fired oven, crispy and tasty. Then we headed to our main destination: a put-put golf venue. However, on the way Asher saw the huge glass Apple store and requested we go check out various technological enticements. He and Avery tried many as I watched over their shoulders, duly informed of their purpose and operations.
Then on to a weird, all black light illuminated, cavernous pirate cove where we played eighteen holes of mini golf. All the white bits on us glowed bluish-bright. I was rather good at the game. I had forewarned them, as I’ve had more practice than they. The fine art of whacking a tiny glowing ball took us 45 minutes.
The last of our stops was The Fossil Cartel, which displays and sells rocks of all sorts. This was a major draw; they’ve been avid rock hunters thanks to my son, Joshua. He makes jewelry out of hunted rocks and other pieces. I bought a couple–amethyst and a blue goldstone orb for Asher and Joshua, respectively. Avery spied a lamp made of glowing rose quartz that she was quick to agree was quite costly. Perhaps one day.
And then I took them to their house across town and went back to mine. I was more tired than anticipated after four hours running around with delightful young ones. So I arranged dirty dishes in the dishwasher, then wrote a measly half hour (usually 6-8+ hours at a stretch) and read more of The Writer magazine until my husband got home. We walked a half hour about the neighborhood. He made (frozen) tasty salmon patties with a heaping green salad and baked potatoes. Very nice. We put our feet up at around nine o’clock.
These events took place on a Tuesday afternoon and early evening in mid-summer. If I was still employed at the non-profit mental health agency where I worked many years, this could not have happened. Seeing our family was another To Do list point enumerated on my planner–it happened but squeezed in between all else. The clock was always ticking. Such is the working life and life beyond it. Today I don’t wear a watch. Time seems to melt as events unfold.
At noon, I would have been counseling, full-steam ahead. Substance addicted and/or mentally ill and court mandated DUII clients (drinking and driving under the influence). Released inmates needing post-prison aftercare and monitoring. Self-referred persons with situational depression due to grief and loss, unemployment or ill health blues and fears. Clients whose children had been removed from the home due to parental drinking and drugging or domestic violence. People came from all walks of life. As they entered my office, their burdensome pain and suffering relented bit by bit or all in a desperate rush. But if they were court mandated for drinking and driving and they felt it entirely unfair, they sat stonily. Or angrily. Either way, the next fifty-five minutes could be just as demanding as any session. Some clients might say brutal. I was not known for cushioning matters for people who drank more than the legal limit, then blithely driving along causing havoc and worse– or fatefully escaping it one more time.
I taught alcohol and drug education groups each evening (some mornings, as well) for an hour and a half or facilitated women-only group therapy. These could extend past the time limit if there was a lively discussion or intense sharing going on. And then there were the urinalyses. Well, when was this not done: between individual sessions, between groups, sometimes during. Some required my presence in the restroom for observed UAs–the court system and DHS often required it. Or I did if I had good reason to suspect specimens were actually offerings from others.
Documentation of all on computer (by hand, many years ago) took an unreasonable amount of time. But unless something was committed to a permanent record, it never happened. Meticulousness and promptness was how this was fulfilled. I worked a four, ten hour/day work week that became–as any human service employees will agree– more like a twelve hour day. That meant I got home around nine-thirty many nights, rarely before eight-thirty. And that meant we ate quite late–my husband cooked, as he was home earlier. But I first walked 30-45 minutes before I ate every night for heart health, rain or shine, darkness or not, alone or not.
Then my agency’s two-story building was accessed by a burglar (computers, TVs, looking for drugs from a locked cabinet) while another employee and I worked alone at night. In our offices on the second floor, we didn’t hear much of anything–rather, not what we thought could be dangerous. I did listen closely once or twice but kept on. As usual upon departure, I double checked outside doors and made sure all lights were off. I hesitated–instinct, I am sure. Then I walked out to my car in a dim parking lot. My work mate had said to go on, but I waited in my locked car. When she came down, we left.
The next morning we heard the news; the entry and burglary occurred partly while we were there. They thought it was a client who knew the ins and outs of the place. We were appalled but reassured that things would be taken in hand. Yes, incidents had occurred even in other work places. We knew we were at risk, working with the volatile, confused, paranoid, desperate. But this was different. I had been there, felt something amiss and we had been there without any security. My husband started to meet me at the end of my work day. He drove from his workplace a half hour away to my work place, waited until I got into my car, then drove off behind me. He was that worried, insisted I not come out until he got there.
I began to think twice about that job. My entire career, the places I had gone alone, the fraught people I had shared a room with, a few events with bad results. That isolated parking area and building were never well lit that late. Everyone else was gone by then. I had at times been entirely alone in the building at night; that night my co-worker happened to be there. The doors were obviously not that secure. There was no alarm system. No security personnel. After that event I complained more about the building and its lacks. The complaints fell on deaf ears, in fact, they were thought over reactive. I documented issues and resultant communications for a later discussion with the Human Resources Director. Then, finally–disappointed, worn out by the fight to get more assistance with the night hour security issues– I handed in my resignation.
I said: “Maybe I am ready to retire. But I have done the best I could here. And I still believe the safety of all is compromised. I now relent.”
It felt like a defeat. During the last day exit meeting, the Director seemed shocked. She vowed to address all, offered me a position in another clinic. I declined. Sometimes you just know it is time to say farewell.
I’d had enough. Not of the actual work, which felt like a calling to me–the nitty-gritty work of counseling and educating those who demanded–deserved–steady guidance and encouragement. But of politics and funding issues, too-long hours and high case loads. In fact, I had started that specific track of my career right after age forty after discovering a passion and natural ability for helping seemingly hopeless addicts and alcoholics, the abandoned, forgotten ones with mental health disabilities. It scared me that I was getting tired, physically and mentally. That I was starting to worry too much about the machinations of that agency as well as safety. My clients had always abided within my first and last thought during each day and evening.
The first two years I quit working the yearning to get back in there came and went. My alcohol and drug counseling certification was placed on sabbatical status while I sent occasional resumes out. It seemed odd there were no responses: I’d never not been able to get a job quickly. Those close to me suggested it was a sign to forget it. It seemed possible; I still wanted interviews. But I had plenty to do and was not bored. I thought maybe within a year at least I’dd find something new. I still missed my clients.
But over time, motivation to keep looking assumed less importance.
I had long desired to return to writing full time, as I infrequently had during a sometimes unpredictable adulthood. I had for years been writing for a block of hours on Fridays, my one day off. I’d jotted ideas down at work if all was caught up for a few minutes.So now I began to write a little more each day, and quickly found it as before–writing fast in concentrated hours. The flood gates of imagination were thrown open with the simple addition of time and a freed mind and soul. The stories would not leave me alone. I was breathlessly, extravagantly happy and told myself to calm down, take it one day at a time, stay disciplined. It all began to work together. I published one thing again, then another. I developed this blog.
So, sure, there is one reason or another to look for work–money for bills and the years ahead, for additional health insurance. The need to help others is still present. I know I should volunteer. But I am impatient with all the “should” stuff and getting more attuned to “want to and will do.” What I have loved but was often neglected comes to the fore. Working with and for others is a priority but there are many ways to do this. I am thinking it over as I write. I am praying for clarity and sniffing out opportunities. I could encourage personal storytelling with at risk youth. I could share poetry about life’s hardship and healings at more readings. There are hot meals needed and that lets me interact with isolated folks as I once did with Meals-on-Wheels program.
I guess I may have needed a big rest from the human condition, the ways it weeps and howls, triumphs or falters. Inside me is such love for those with whom I have crossed paths over the decades. They demonstrated how to find more courage in the midst of mayhem and how to persist despite no earthly good reason. But most of all I learned how to find ever deepening wells of compassion and mercy. Within myself and within others.
The next time I see that cashier I will chat a bit, thank him for his assistance. I am certain he gave his decision to keep working longer–or to return–plenty of thought. He is doing a good job. I hope life is going well for him. I could worry each day that I am not bringing home a paycheck to add to the pot. Most of the time I do not. I have this time to live, right now. I am a heart patient who has so far prevailed but I don’t know what tomorrow brings. None of us do–more and more we are finding the world is built on sand and it so often brings the chaos of trouble with unjust endings.
There is a lifetime of endeavors for all humans. Besides the need to survive, it is in our make-up to seek the next thing worthy of our efforts to assess, tackle, solve, wonder over. For me, work continues, just not as a counselor right now even while I remain on sabbatical status. I was, am and will be a writer, though. A person seeking creative expression each day, for there is a surplus of opportunity. I am thankful each day I have more time. We must divine what is right for ourselves, invest in the richest life possible, the one we truly value. There is a lot of stuff we don’t own that we might. But this is true fortune to me–family and friends, my faith and optimism put into action, caring for my wellness, more engagement in living fully. This is on my best daily agenda, nothing more. I anticipate what unfolds with trust and curiosity.