The woman that told me this story swears it's true. And it is the worst retirement story I have heard thus far. A man retired from a job with the State of Arkansas. He sold his house and moved to another town 50 miles away. This man evidently did not have much to occupy his time. So twice a week he drives back to Little Rock to do his old job on a voluntary basis.
Is that not the saddest thing you've ever heard? Well, there are sadder things. We all hear about the guys (and they are all guys) who work until they are 75 or so and then drop dead within the year. And lately, all of the comedians in my life-and they evidently are Legion-have reminded me that the recently deceased Andy Rooney and I both retired last month. And look what happened to him. Please. Andy Rooney was 92. The fact that he died a month after he retired from CBS is not nearly as remarkable as the fact that he worked into his nineties. I can't imagine living into my nineties much less working then. Not that there's much chance of that. The men in my family tend to check out way ahead of what the actuaries prophesy.
Still, people ask me all the time, "How's it going?" or the equivalent. And here's what I tell them.
It's going OK. I'm not going to lie to you. At first it was just awful. Unlike the man in the story that opened this post, I did not miss my old job. Indeed, I still don't. Rarely do I even think about it unless somebody from the office calls me or sends an e-mail or something. Oh, I miss most of the people I worked with. But I keep in touch with most of them. As I told one of my Louisiana friends, as long as they keep playing college football, he and I will remain in touch. But I don't miss the job. That's huge. And the realization of this early on was the anchor to which I held during those terrible first weeks.
What was so terrible? Hard to put a finger on it. There were certain complicating factors of which I was unaware until that point in time that added to the feeling of dissonance I was experiencing at first. To borrow Mr. Eliot's lovely phrase, sometimes the moment is forced to its crisis. So it goes.
My friend Gisele called me from her vacation. She wanted to know how things were going.
"Awful," I bravely said. "Just awful."
"I was afraid of that," she said. Then she told me something I had never considered. Or had even heard before.
"Paul," she said. I could tell from her voice that she was shifting into full blown clinical psychologist mode. "You don't have to earn your self-esteem anymore. You had a great career. You have a wonderful reputation in the community. You are loved by more people than anyone I know. You earned this by your actions and your service. And you don't need a job right now to maintain your self esteem."
Boy. That was exactly what I was doing. Didn't see that one coming.
"Be still. Just like the Bible says," she said. "Now is your time to be still. There will be plenty of time for a second career. Enjoy this while you can."
I kept these things and pondered them in my heart. And in time, the Big Picture that I had lost sight of returned to me. Of COURSE this is not all the money I will make for the rest of my life. Of COURSE, I will work again, Of COURSE people won't forget about me. And of COURSE I will have someone in my life again.
The line between navel gazing and having one's head up one's ass can be pretty thin. I believe I crossed it.
So how are things going? OK. If the first pension check is any indication (and people say the first one is never right) I can sustain my normal level of profligacy for about 7 months or so based on the money I have in my checking account. But I hope to be working again before then. I have retained a resume service. I got the first draft last week. As the old saying goes, I look good on paper.
I have made new friends. Men and women. One of them is a Baptist preacher. Most people find this astounding given-shall we say-my historic (ummmmm antipathy is too strong) differences with the Baptist communion. Differences. Let's go with differences. But Randy and I just mainly talk about golf and photography. But the other night, while we shooting pictures off the Clinton Library bridge at twilight he made a reference to his "personal theology of hell."
Now this is pretty un-Baptist. To most Baptists-at least the ones I grew up with-Hell is not a theological concept. It is a geographical location. Like Memphis. This is great. The scales have fallen from my eyes.
What else? I've been taking lots of pictures. That's nothing new. I'm working with a trainer again after a hiatus. That's nothing new. Playing golf 2-3 times a week. The frequency is the only thing that's new. I generally walk twice a day mainly in hopes of getting the pinched nerve in my back that has returned to loosen up. Doing a lot of reading. Cleaned out the shed. Replaced the crap in there that got hauled off with other crap. Like the box filled with my degrees and licenses.
My boy Chris from Thibodeaux has a friend up here at UAMS with bone cancer. Wants me to check on she and her husband. Talked to her husband before the Razorback game. Listening to that wonderful accent made me wonder if I would need to provide translation services for the folks at the hospital. Anyway, Ronnie said they would like a visit from the Catholic clergy. I am plugged in to the Catholics around here. Not to mention the Baptists all of a sudden. But I can make that happen. Ronnie also asked me if I knew where he could park his RV for a week. I told him I would have to get back to him on that one.
I'm glad Chris reached out. It's good to feel useful.
But not much has changed in my life except I now get paid just for breathing.
So it's going OK. At least it is now that I have got my eye back on the Big Picture.
Thanks for asking. Know where I can park an RV for a week?