By: Rev. Nan Smith
I have a friend, an engineering professor, who when he retired took to kayaking the waters in a city park located north of Ames. Ada Hayden Heritage Park, so named for Ada Hayden, a past curator of the Iowa State Herbarium. She was instrumental in preserving specimens of the tallgrass prairie habitat. It is a sparkling gem of a park.
My friend built his own wooden kayak – a beautiful work of craftsmanship and when he retired, he spent his days on the waters. It was a daily occurrence, through the seasons, to see the rhythmic movement of his paddle as he glided across the open waters.
When you immerse yourself in a place, in such a manner, you learn the rhythms. You notice the subtlety, those slight changes that are continually happening. You see the ups and downs, the ins and the outs, the comings, and the goings. You are aware of the changes in the vegetation and the varied hues that brings. You are a witness to the ongoing cycles of birth and death. You know where the green heron hunts and where the painted turtles pile to sun. You have seen the breaking of day and the coming of night. You have learned the calm of stillness and the excitement of waters erupting in movement.
To take the time needed and immerse yourself, is to learn the nuances of the landscape you find yourself in.
However, in a world heaped with expectations, sometimes it can be hard to be open to the rhythms of a particular place or season of life; it can be difficult to settle down into it and not rush what it is being offered.
Such is the case with retirement – at least for me. It is not what I expected or imagined it would be. Of course, I think I must expect that. For what I imagined, was viewed through the lens of actively working and so I thought retirement would just be an extension of what it felt like when I was working. I would be busy, with lots to do, and many things to accomplish.
And perhaps that will come, but that certainly has not happened yet. Instead, I have found that the rhythm of retirement is different, far different, from what I imagined it would be. Instead of productivity and creative energy, this is a season filled with rest and renewal. Boxes remain unpacked, projects are ignored, and I am reevaluating what it means to be productive. I find that my dreams are changing.
For now, I have found myself settling into a routine of solitude – where the demands I place upon myself are few. It is okay to spend the day reading a good book, playing with the dogs, walking the trails, or napping in the afternoon sun. It is okay to be lazy and live into this season of dormancy. However, for a person who has been driven throughout much of her life, I am finding these new rhythms to be somewhat uncomfortable, but also remarkably grounding.
There is an invitation here, but I am not quite sure what it is yet.
My good friend, Cynthia, tells me that researchers have identified stages of living into retirement, much like the stages identified for grieving or dying. She tells me I am in the “honeymoon stage” of retirement, where I love the change retirement has brought to my life and I am reveling in the differences it offers from my previous work life. She tells me to embrace it and enjoy it and immerse myself in it and accept it for what it is.
Perhaps, with time…
For now, I have chosen to let go of those internal messages that tell me that retirement should be this, or I should feel that, or I should be doing this or that. Instead, the invitation is to savor the moment, the season, and the landscape, for what it is. To be curious and open. There is an invitation to let go of the preconceptions and instead, immerse myself in the complexity and simplicity that this season of life brings.
Therein lies the hope and joy.