"No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that rock I'm clinging.
It sounds an echo in my soul,
How can I keep from singing?"
"My Life Flows On"
If you had told me at this time last year that between now and then that one of my best friends in this life would be dead and that I would be retired from the Federal Government only to take a job in the private sector four months later I would have warned you about spending so much time on the crack pipe. But then again, last February was when all hell started busting loose at the seams around here.
"Damn, Paul," the man said as we sat in a local watering hole last night. "That's a lot of change in one year."
"No shit," I replied, as I ordered a glass of bourbon. "The remembrance of these things makes me thirsty."
My drinking partner is in a business that is about to roll out a commercial website. He wanted to know if I might interested in doing some copy for them. Next week, I will meet with somebody who wants to discuss doing loan closings for her company here in Arkansas. I have also agreed to do some free lance stuff for a local charity. And Monday morning I start a part-time job with a consumer protection organization that has an exceedingly alliterative name.
All of these opportunities, every single one of them, have fallen from the sky. This is immensely humbling and gratifying in equal measure. Because when I walked away from the only professional life I ever knew, it was traumatic. Talk about fallen from the sky. I was literally riddled with anxiety. About the money. About trying to find another job. About you name it. I am not the anxious type. I didn't know how to make it go away. It seemed as if my entire existence turned upside down.
I will not lie to you. October was completely awful. Easily the worst month of my life.
Then things started getting better. It took awhile but things started getting better. I can't quite put my finger on it. Maybe it was when I was able to fully process the fullness of the fact that there was a lot of grief in the preceding year and that there was a grieving process to go through. The bucket brigade of therapist friends who materialized were unanimous about this experience being a process that I had to go through before I could feel like myself again. This was imminently sensible advice, which of course, I didn't want any part of.
I am a guy. I vastly prefer denial.
Maybe my feelings started to change when my poor long suffering financial guy, who probably didn't realize back in August that he was taking on a lunatic, told me, " Tell you what. You can worry when I tell you to start worrying. OK? Until then you might as well enjoy yourself. You've earned it."
By November I had finally figured out that I could really live on what Uncle was sending me on the first of every month. And that I would receive this FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE. That's hard to wrap your head around, especially for a guy like me who has always been so good to set money aside. The notion of not really having to do that anymore, or at least not right this second, is a pretty radical one indeed.
I am not a wealthy man by any stretch of the imagination. But there is a healthy balance in my bank account. The 401k will be untouched at least for the next 4 years. And then I may make a withdrawal to pay the house off. Or not. I don't pay myself first anymore as Uncle Howard taught me when I was young. But I pay the taxes and the medical insurance first.
But mostly, I get paid for breathing. That's just amazing.
My accountant had an interesting take on it. I had gone to Tracy to see if I needed to be an LLC. He said that I did not. But not for any reason that had anything to do with taxes.
"Paul," he said. "It's like you've been through a divorce. Retirement is a huge change even though it's a good change. You are feeling your way through things right now. Even if you don't know it. Why spend the money to set you up as an LLC based on what you know about your life right now only to have to dissolve it when you wind up teaching high school 2 years from now?"
He's right. Everybody's right. I'm feeling my way through things now. I have given myself over to it. And it's OK.
I ran across the old hymn "My Life Flows On" for the first time in years when I joined a friend at church one Sunday last October. I was still in full-blown nut status in those days. As I stood there singing in the pew alongside Mark on that beautiful Fall day, I felt the first small measure of peace since I had begun the retirement process last Summer.
Last Thursday, I caught myself contently whistling that stately hymn tune while I carried a bag on the golf course. It struck me as interesting that such a simple little hymn can mean different things to a person at different times in a life. That's why church musicians will always have jobs.
"You took a chance," my friend Danny said last week. "And you got dealt aces."
Because I have regained my inmost calm. And no storm will ever shake it again.