“What is a good thing about getting older?” my daughter asked several years ago while doing research for a sociology class.
“Nothing!” I retorted. My life stunk in my 50s and I wasn’t even to the prune juice and Depends stage. I looked terrible—weight piled on as I snacked through Costco-sized bags of corn chips and secret stashes of Twinkies— seeking energy to sustain me while teaching 200 junior high kids all day, taking master’s classes at night, fulfilling church callings, dealing with our last two kids who refused to grow up, and spending time with an aging father. I felt terrible. No energy, no time to exercise, in bed too late, up too early, never a moment to myself. My dad’s physical decline was my future.
Fifteen years later, I love life. What made the difference? A monthly pension and Social Security freed me from the grind of laboring 50 hours a week to instill a love of learning into the cement-block heads of 9th graders. Also, our two youngest grew up and became responsible citizens in the interval.
My Mormon work ethic kept me teaching part time for a few years after retirement—first with a charter school, then teaching freshmen comp at a state university. But part time work in a congenial atmosphere is more pleasure than pressure. After decades of racing like a hamster on a wheel, I now had free time. Time to stretch my body into better shape with yoga. Time to stretch my spirit into better shape with meditation. Time to stretch my mind with reading and writing.
George’s near brush with death jolted us both into recognizing how fragile mortality is. Cleaning up the kitchen together after supper is a pleasure compared with the thought of being alone for meals—or not being here at all. So nice to close my finger in a book and walk into the next room to share a meaningful passage with George. Even the click of the TV as he settles in to watch NCIS on Tuesday evenings strikes a comforting note. A note I muffle with a shut door as the volume soars.
I used to pity my dad sitting alone. Now I’ve learned that one of the blessings of the body slowing down is the time it gives the mind for reflection—at least until cognitive impairment kicks in. Knowing that most of my life is past has reset my priorities. Surprisingly, my earlier plans for this time of life—a mission, temple work, genealogy—now hold no interest. But my interest in writing, which I’d shelved for four decades of teaching and mothering, has resurfaced as I’ve found new friends with similar interests.
Retired people set their clocks at a slower pace than working people. We no longer dash around trying to fit 30 hours into each 24. We don’t have to impress anyone. We’ve earned the freedom to associate with those of common interests. Age has definite drawbacks—leaky bladders, stuffed bowels, but the leisurely pace compensates—at least while we have reasonable health and income. Dementia ahead? Not to worry. That’s payback to the youngest two kids who stressed out our earlier years.