And now we have arrived at what Germans call die Zeit zwischen den Jahren, or “the time between the years,” that quiet period between Christmas and New Year’s when we sit back, munch cookies, burp, and reflect on the glories and challenges of the past year, while planning our goals for the next.
2014 was a truly momentous year for me: I retired after a 27-year teaching career; I came back to the U.S. after living in Germany for nearly 30 years; I married a very good man and acquired a most excellent extended family; I made some real progress toward my long-frustrated goals and desires. Holy cow!
2015 will be the first calendar year in which I’m fully retired – well, from teaching – well, for money. I’ll soon begin volunteering at a family literacy program that helps adults – in this case, mothers – reach their goal of a high school diploma and, for some, preparation for college. There are so many good causes here that need volunteers; a retired person could easily fill her days with satisfying work outside the home if she so desired. I don’t. Part of my transition into retirement has been lolling about in my jammies, enjoying my newfound freedom like a pig rolling in luscious mud. After so many years of doing for others, I’ve been enjoying this unrepentant selfishness. I still wake up most mornings, realize that I don’t have to get out of bed until I’m good and ready, and grin in amazement and delight.
Time is really what we sell when we work, and what we long for during those working years – time in abundance, time to fulfill our plans, write our novels, paint our tableaux, build our homes, explore the world, take care of ourselves the way we’ve taken care of children and clients and students and pets and… And the dominant note of this phase of life – sweet, blessed retirement from daily paid work – is the keen awareness that time is limited. I’ll be active and healthy for – what? – maybe twenty more years? A bit more if I’m lucky, but I’ve also entered the phase of life in which friends my age begin to die of cancer, heart disease, the various ailments that take us away too soon. So I try not to waste this precious, vital time on mindless time-sucks like TV marathons, errands, or too much social media. Wow – what could I have accomplished if I’d take this attitude twenty years earlier?
Recently I spent some time with some people in their 30s and early 40s, and what I took away from that exchange is that they’re terrified – of growing older, of no longer being the cool kids, of losing their youthful invincibility, of entering that slide into – what? What are you so afraid of, kiddos? Clearly, these bright, lovely young people fear some terrible fate that awaits when they are no longer wired in to the latest electronic gadgets, when they no longer dance ‘til dawn, when their knees and backs complain after athletic feats of derring-do. I want to take them in my arms and reassure them that life is indeed worth living past youth – that their older years will most likely be a blast! But they wouldn’t believe me, so indoctrinated are they by the Cool Kids’ Creed. (It must be posted somewhere on some social media site I’m too old and uncool to access.)
So the best I can do for these frightened young people is to give them a good example of an older woman having fun in retirement. I’ve no intention of trying to crack the Cool Kids’ Code – after all, it’s intended to keep my ilk out of the clubhouse, and I would look mighty silly in one of those floppy hipster beanies. But soon these youngsters will venture a look out of the clubhouse and notice that – can it be? – there are older people out there having fun! That’s a good goal for 2015, I think: I shall set a good example of a retired person enjoying her life. Happy New Year, everyone!