“How do you like retirement?” is a question I hear often. I don’t teach anymore, but I’m still working two part-time jobs. Writing this is one of them. The other demands less of me in winter, and I usually answer that I like retirement very well. Mostly, I like that I don’t feel rushed. I'm more of a human being than a human doing. I keep the same hours - up at 4:30 and early to bed - but the pace is slower and that’s the best part. I often have time to chat when I bump into friends, something I could rarely do before.
A good friend advised that I not jump into something else right away, to take a year and just be. See what happened. That felt right, so I said no to several offers right away. Didn’t think I’d take the whole year, but I’m two-thirds into it already and I’m noticing subtle, but important changes.
First I moved my laptop and power cord upstairs to my office where the printer, fax, filing cabinets and phones are. When I want to open it, I go up there. The laptop used to be next to my recliner in the living room. For years, that was where I’d do my writing, bill-paying, and news-gathering. I could pick it up during commercials for quick check of email or news, but it began to bother me when my wife and grandson would say, “You’re always on the computer.” That wasn’t literally true but it’s how they perceived me, so I began to observe myself. I noticed that when I picked up my computer and opened it on my lap, I was taken away. My body was in the room, but other parts were somewhere else.
Then I began to alter how I began my day. After showering, putting coffee on, exercising, praying, and getting dressed, I’d go into my office and open the laptop. During winter, I exercise and pray in the dark. I’d see stars through my windows. If the moon was up, I could see the horizon - the white peak of Mount Washington with stars twinkling above it. Few if any other people in my area of the world would be awake, and if they were, they kept to themselves too. I liked watching alone as the world outside filled up with light. But when I went to my office after that and opened the computer, it shined artificial light into my face. My dilated pupils would contract and all I’d see was my screen. Perception changed from physical/spiritual awareness to intellectual. Contemplative mood diminished as I was taken away again to other places and times.My mind would be pulled in several directions in short intervals. There were emails to trash, to read, and to answer - some business-related, some social, some informative. Others contained links to stories and commentaries. It was all stimulating and parts of me loved it. Other parts, however, felt robbed. The part that pondered the quiet, cold sky, the vague outlines of the hardwoods outside my window, stars twinkling between the fingers of their upper branches - the part still contemplating my Creator, that listened for response to prayer, the part that felt residual warmth and strength after exercise, and the sensation of caffeine from my first cup of coffee. Those parts felt deprived, just as my wife and grandson did when my laptop was so often open as I sat in their presence. So, I’m moving away from those things - not entirely, but substantially. I’m starting my day reading hard copy. Lately that’s a novel called “The Father’s Tale” by Michael O’Brien.It’s the novel I’d fall asleep to before going into dream state. Of some dreams I’d remember large parts, but of others only a few scattered images and feelings. With some dreams come understandings of symbols and archetypes, but with others only incoherent jumbles which may never be sorted out. A novel is not unlike that. Images and feelings are generated in our mind’s eye by the novelist’s word sequences as we allow disbelief to suspend. Reading it the next morning offers me a more gentle segue into the new day. O’Brien’s spirituality - his sense of meanings and mysteries - are woven into his characters, and the main character is a father. He wanders through life as all of us do, trying to glean meaning from the people, events and circumstances he experiences each day.All this has been helping me assume a more balanced state for my attempts to comprehend the wider world I’ll glimpse when I finally do open the computer. I turn down the intensity of the light from the screen so I can still glance outside from to time and watch as the Maker of all illuminates the world.