Dinty W. Moore: Sit the Hell Down

Retirement has added challenges during the COVID-19 quarantine.

Posted Aug 27, 2020

Reprinted from Alone Together: Love, Grief, and Comfort in the Time of COVID-19, edited and curated by Jennifer Haupt.

Renita M. Romasco, used with permission
Source: Renita M. Romasco, used with permission

After more than 33 years of teaching writing to college students, the unexpected happened. I found myself starting to lose steam and began searching for an expiration date. Nothing had changed, really: The students were great, the job was a privilege. But I grew increasingly tired of hearing myself talk. And when I walked by the classrooms of younger teachers, I sensed an energy that my own classes no longer had.

So I announced that spring 2020 would be my final semester, and as my last day in the classroom neared, I let myself dream. I imagined my retirement as a bursting forth, a late-stage adventure, a time to travel, to commence with goals long put off by faculty meetings and marking student papers.

Maybe it will be, someday.

Right now, though, well into our pandemic social-distancing protocol, my retirement looks like this:

Stay the hell home. Sit the hell down. Stare out the window. Watch for the mail. Spy on the neighbors out of sheer boredom. If the sun is warm enough, wander my 16-by-16-foot backyard until I can name every blade of grass and identify every loose bit of brick on the retaining wall.

Over the years, I’ve watched as elderly neighbors lived this sort of restricted life and thought, “Not me, no way, no chance.” But whoever is in charge of this world has their own sense of humor.

Postponed. Suspended. That’s how it all feels. I’m not fully out of my old life but neither am I quite in my new life. I feel like a bug, sealed in amber but wide awake.

Buddhist teachers have been urging us for many years now to live in the present moment, and now that we can, it turns out to be very, very difficult. This is not the moment we chose. This is not a moment sparkling with possibility. Not a sunrise on a mountain. The moment, to be honest—if you are lucky enough to be healthy, and not fighting the virus on the front lines—is rather dull.

As retirement neared, I often assured my friends (and myself), “Oh, I’ll be busy. It’s not as if I’m going to just sit in my easy chair all day, staring at the wall.” Now I sit in my easy chair and can’t stop thinking of my favorite John Lennon quote, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

My plan for today is to make dinner.

Retirement doesn’t feel so different. Just the new normal.

Lots of people are suspended in amber right now.

But at least I retired by choice. There’s a blessing I have to count.

I’m still here. That’s another blessing.

And that wall?

I’m staring at the wall, more than I ever planned, but also noticing that when the afternoon sun streams through the living room window, it takes on beautiful shadows.

Dinty W. Moore is author of the memoir Between Panic & Desire and the writing guides The Story Cure and Crafting the Personal Essay among many other books. He has published essays and stories in The Georgia Review, Harper’s, The New York Times Magazine, The Southern Review, and elsewhere. He is founding editor of Brevity, the journal of flash nonfiction, and teaches master classes and workshops across the United States as well as in Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland, and Mexico.