Retirement is a tricky business. It can even be downright uncomfortable. I’m still trying to figure it out. I know what you’re thinking: What’s to figure out, buddy. All you have to do now is wake up late, drink coffee, and watch TV all day. Well, maybe that will work for the first few weeks, but how much coffee and TV can a person manage? The problem with retirement is boredom – plain and simple and debilitating.
Most of us, before retirement, were very busy people. I was a teacher – high school and college, and used to having a place to go to every weekday, and having a community of people with whom I interacted. That job and community provided me with a large part of my identity. Now, who knows what or who I am. Just that guy who lives in the house up the street, whose car is almost always in the driveway.
There are the usual remedies: get a hobby, volunteer, meditate, join a group, read the books you always meant to. And, I’ve tried all of them. Some with more success than others, but still they don’t seem to fill that empty space in the heart that keeps insisting, you’re done old man. The thing is, whether you become a wood turner or keep bees or volunteer at the local library, your efforts are still beside the point. The retired person, by definition, is no longer part of the work force and so is no longer significant.
But enough whining here. To go on, one MUST find a way to be okay with himself or herself. Here are some ways that I’ve been working on that help me cope. Some days they’re even effective.
I try to get up at a regular hour – 8:30 works for me. That way I feel like I have things to do, a day to look forward to. After arising, and seeing to my morning ablutions, I take a moment to feel an appreciation for being alive and for having the luxury of not having to do anything of vital importance. Then, if you’re as lucky as I am, and live in a beautiful place, you can take a moment or more to appreciate the beauty of the world around you. It rains a lot here on the Oregon Coast, but even on the rainiest of those days, I still feel moved by looking out at the trees blowing in the wind and the clouds rolling through, and, of course, the mighty Pacific Ocean. I feel at peace as I take my daily walk on the beach.
The next thing on my agenda is to get busy. I break these adventures into two categories: activities done for and with the body and activities done with the mind. It’s more important now than ever to take care of your body. I bought a stationary bike once the pandemic made going to the local YMCA unwise. I’d rather work out with other folks, but one has to adjust. I also surf, which is the one thing that can make me forget age entirely. In the waves I’m neither young nor old, but simply present. The whole day after boarding I’m high on endorphins.
The brain is harder than the body to satisfy. The damn thing keeps talking back, with way too many criticisms and critiques, and old stories. I tell myself to “shut the fuck up” quite regularly. But it’s important to keep the brain exercised also. Talking to interesting people is really vital, I think. Retirement too often leads to isolation. Sometimes you need to push out of the comfort zone, which, in truth, is not very comfortable at all, just habit. Classes are good to take or to offer. And you can do it remotely. I’ve become a virtual Zoom master over the last eight months. After a brief period of awkwardness, Zoom people feel just like real ones.
Whether physically or mentally, the trick is to stay engaged. Don’t give in to that comfy seat in front of the television – as tempting as it may be. A few hours couldn’t hurt, though. Like they say, “All things in moderation, including moderation.” Hey, we’re still allowed to have fun, geezers or not. Maybe that’s even the key to the whole deal: Have fun. Repeat: Have fun.
So, how to sum this all up? Afraid I’m not the man for that job. I’m still figuring all this retirement stuff out. I’m hanging in for now, and trying to enjoy my life and my friends and family. It can be hard, but, as in any transitional phrase, retirement can bring new understanding, and even a new sense of self. Now I’m gonna go check the waves.
A long-time writer and teacher, Robert “Butch” Freedman lives in Cape Meares, Oregon with his wife, Beverly Stein. Originally from Philadelphia, he has finally fully acclimated to life in the Great Northwest. Butch published the autobiographical novel, “Fancypants: An Autobiographical Novel” in 2008 and “Beach Bum: A Life in Pieces in 2018. His short prose works have appeared in numerous publications.