Who Are You?

Retirement DSC00977

Sunset on Lake Champlain

Who reads these posts? What’s going on here?

This blog is now two years old and we might take stock of our efforts. Two years ago I expected most readers would be retired. Now it’s clear that many readers are not even close to retirement but instead work serving a senior population.

Some friends read the blog. We stay in touch through Facebook, phone calls, emails, or in person.

Several hundred people have registered as users/subscribers on the site, several hundred follow me on Twitter, and a few on Facebook.

Although I’m uncertain about the benefits to readers, I know blogging has helped me work out my ideas about retirement. I feel confident now about retirement. I know it can be as fulfilling as parenting or work but without constant stress.

Major Concerns in Retirement

Four concerns seem to dominate retirement literature. Retirees want or need:

  • enough money
  • good relations with family and friends
  • good health
  • a good spiritual life

My experience confirms them, and I can add two more. Retirees want or need:

  • to be useful
  • to have fun

These concerns are not new in retirement, but they take on a balance and form that’s usually different from that of middle life.

Money, Health, Usefulness, Fun

Regarding money, retired people have worked to gain vested entitlements to income through Social Security, pensions or savings/investments. Retirees don’t have to please bosses or customers to receive income. Every retiree I’ve met celebrates these facts. We still, however, must live within our means.

Health in retirement usually starts strong and ends weak. Our joints stiffen or wear out, muscles weaken, we encounter problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, or other imbalances. The trick is to understand our ailments and work to alleviate them. In the end, we must accept our decline.

Being useful and having fun go hand in hand in retirement, but with more flexibility than in working life. Retirees can more easily carve out blocks of time to travel or engage projects. In middle life I could never have done this blog for two years. I could never have taken several motorcycle journeys or volunteered in Peru for a month. Last winter my wife and I went to Vermont for three months to ski and visit my brother; couldn’t have done that when working.

Family, Friends, Spirituality

Friends can be harder to make in retirement, which increases the importance of family. If we have few friends and if our family relations are troubled, retirement can be a lonely, bitter experience.

In middle life, friends come to us easily through work, civic, professional or religious organizations or in raising children. Many middle-life friends fade away in retirement, and we need to add new ones. By “friends” I mean people we regularly spend time with. We may have deep friendships from earlier years, but if they are far away or otherwise committed, they don’t help the day-to-day loneliness that many retirees experience.

The only reasonable way to make new friends is to create or join, then participate in, organizations or groups. The groups must do things, just as groups in middle life do things—work, bowl, fish, quilt, pray, read, and so on. They may be as informal as a few people meeting weekly for breakfast, or they may be formal like an agency-sponsored senior center.

Flick Family ~1950Being with friends and family helps us understand our lives as part of other lives, which offers us extended existence in time and space. Through family especially, we have a particular place in the human saga.

Also, families usually help us with spiritual practice. Families connect us to one particular human network; spirituality extends us more generally through realms of the mind, heart, and spirit. Through our families we grow in time and space, and through spiritual practice we gain a deeper appreciation of the human condition. Families harbor a special truthfulness about each of us that is uncommon among friends and that fosters spiritual growth. And families typically serve as our last refuge.

Older people tend more to engage spiritual practice, frequently returning to or emphasizing religion. Some think that fear of the fires of hell motivates the return, but I think the reasons lie elsewhere.

Humans are naturally self conscious, concerned with moral actions, with goodness in its many forms, and as we approach the end of life, most of us want to forgive ourselves and others for past actions. We want to mend the ruptures, wrap things up, create a whole and harmonious life, and give ourselves an ultimate meaning.

The Plan

For the most part, I don’t know you well. I’d like to know you better, but you will most likely continue to want anonymity. You read a post, maybe think a little, then head back to your life. There is nothing wrong with that.

I’m going to continue blogging for another year, life permitting. Maybe then you and I will have had enough; or maybe not.

DSC_0142.JPG

Sunrise on the Atlantic