Retirement Is an Immersion Process

Retirement is an immersion process. It’s been four years since I saw the tail lights on the moving truck, and I know I’ve been through another phase and come out the other end. In my journey through retirement, three distinct processes have gradually unfolded.

First, I discovered access to a fine pipe organ and began to practice several hours each day. Realistically, I understand that I’ll never develop expertise to the level I hear in my mind. Some days my fingers and feet seem only loosely connected to my brain; some days, though, I can play a Bach prelude and fugue that he might not mind listening to for a few minutes.

Actually, I had a day like that last week on my way home from the dentist. Before a dental procedure begins they routinely offer me nitrous oxide. I always respond, “Bring on the laughing gas. I’ll take as much as you can give me!” When it was over, half my face was immobilized, but the rest of me was mellow. Since I couldn’t eat lunch for several hours anyway, I stopped at the church organ. I played Bach like I haven’t had him in my fingers for many decades. It felt so fine, so deeply rewarding. Or is this like the old marijuana debate and I only thought I was doing well?

One thing I know for sure, when those big bass pipes begin to sound, the vibrations resonate through the bones in my entire body creating a deeply emotional response to the music. The physical and the spiritual are deeply connected at times like that.

The second event that changed my perspective was my friendship with several people I have come to admire. These relationships matter deeply to me and seem long term. Keep in mind that “long term” is highly relative. Seniors never know whether that means a month, a year, or twenty. Whatever the length turns out to be, it will still have been “friends for life,” and that is deeply grounding. It’s a lot like a ground bass where the same lovely intervals recur again and again.

The third event has been unfolding almost imperceptibly over a number of years, I suppose, but the recognition of it, the recent discovery of it has been life-changing. I speak of my relationship with my children. When they were little I had a strong vision of their gifts and talents and what they could become and contribute to society. As they matured, I spent decades of my life invested in helping and hoping. I could see choices they could make to fulfill what my early love for them believed could be reality.

What retirement has brought me is the acceptance of what my children have actually chosen. I have come to see how I can love them for the people they are. I still help wherever I can, but mostly when asked. I still hope for their complete happiness, but know it will unfold in ways I can’t foresee. That doesn’t mean I don’t grieve for their hurts and failures—I could spend the whole day weeping, I suppose. But I limit myself to ten minutes and shut it off. I turn to something else that bears my fixing. And I continue to love them, nonetheless.

These three life-changing experiences have created a climate for my retirement that keeps my feet on the ground, even if my head still longs to see the curvature of the earth.