For almost a year after I retired, I enjoyed daily reminders that I didn’t have to go to work. I watched commuters rushing toward the expressway every morning, stone-faced, hands tight on the wheel, while I tooled along at half the speed. I noticed men in suits on hot summer days, when I hadn’t worn dress shoes in weeks. I observed customers stomp in and out of my favorite café while I sat enjoying my vanilla chai and the morning paper. I awakened some days, my mind full of anxiety, only to remember that I didn’t have to face the deadlines, the demands, the schedule, the routine of employment any longer. Free at last, free at last… Well, you get the picture. (Let me hasten to add that I know many people don't have the luxury of retirement; and many retirees do not welcome retirement as much as I did; they struggle and miss what they have done for a long, long time once it is gone; I was not one of these; I still feel a little embarrassed to say this out loud, because I valued the career I had helping families and others facing emotional, relational, health and psychiatric problems; but, nonetheless, I had no doubts about retirement when the time came.)
I had lived life as if, by necessity, it had to be divided into hourly increments, sometimes smaller, which had to be filled (sometimes double-booked) so that I could feel productive. My Calendar, My Master! All of that disappeared (along with my watch) in the first months after I retired. I couldn’t believe how much time I had. I couldn’t believe how much mental space was suddenly available. It was invigorating.
It wasn’t long, though, before I understood that being retired, the absence of work, was not enough to make a life. What did my life mean now?
In the last couple of years, I have made a distinction between work and employment. I realize now that my retirement was about leaving employment behind, but it wasn’t about giving up work. Work, it turns out, is very important to me. The difference now is that I have control over that work. I can make choices based on what I believe is meaningful; what I believe is the best use of my gifts; and what gives me a sense of value or purpose. I can shape the meaning of my life in new ways.
In retirement I spend much more time with my wife and family, which is wonderful. We care for our granddaughters, which is a gift. I volunteer in a family healthcare setting, which has always been important to me. I also work with physicians to enhance their communication skills.
And I write. Writing is not just important. It is essential. It is how I explore what it means to be human; it is how I wrestle with questions that so many of us ask; it is the way I can give back, even when giving back may feel like I’m tossing words into the air, never knowing where they’ll land. Writing is also a source of beauty—a simple sentence, an illuminating phrase, a tight paragraph, a richly drawn character, and, in the end, a good story.
We, all of us, are storytellers; and by being storytellers, we are meaning makers. I knew this all along, but in retirement I have come to understand it better than ever before. Storytelling, meaning making defines me as much as anything could. And so I scribble away, always reminded that there is work yet to be done.
David B. Seaburn has written four novels, most recently, Chimney Bluffs. His latest novel, More More Time, will be released later this year. For more information, click on his picture above.