Retirement is Huge

Retirement is huge, all-encompassing, life-changing. I suppose it’s not reasonable to expect the transition to be over when I’ve merely closed my office door for the last time.

The day after, my first response was the desire to float. No house, no car, no suitcase, no connections. Just float. At first I denied that retirement itself had caused this state of mind, this desire to be disembodied, to float, to not feel. I would only admit that retirement had somehow exacerbated it.

After I taught my last class at the university, I buried myself in projects, primarily writing. I lived alone—no kids, no pets—and felt little connection between time of day and eating and sleeping. I barely surfaced to know what day it was. Friends called on week-ends, so I began to set my iPhone for 7 AM so I’d have a marker to keep me upright and cogent.

My house had been on the market before I retired, but when it sold, the change seemed sudden, for I then had to empty it. You’d think the exhaustion of feverishly stuffing my belongings into boxes would have propelled me towards earth, but the longing to float remained. You’d think saying goodbye to long-term friends would have brought me down sharply, but distances shrink in the face of social media and air travel.

Even though I enjoyed the pretty things and oddments I’d accumulated over the years during travels near and far, I found myself wishing a tornado would whisk them away. It still strikes me as odd how all the natural events I had feared all those years of living in the mid-west—tornadoes, ice-storms, and sink holes—became potential deliverers from self-definition. There is something about owning a home and all that goes in it that anchors and defines. I wanted that to end.

I wished fervently for some sort of graduation for a retired person (besides death, of course) that would release me from being pegged and categorized. I was looking for some kind of ceremony that would deliver me from the duties of ownership and obligation. I was hunting for whatever would disconnect me from material definition.

Then I bought a house in a new city. I had to phone for insurance. And then I had to buy more insurance for this, that, and the other, all the time wishing that when I next opened my eyes I’d have nothing to ensure. I bought furniture for my patio, yet I couldn’t imagine sitting still in it. I wanted to go to Machu Picchu. I wanted to spend three months on the island of Crete—just me and my books.

I wanted to be a barn swallow. They make nests out of mud, yet they are swift and social and beautiful.