On November 1, I will have been retired for six months. So, being an impatient sort, and aware of how dramatically these past months have differed from the decades that preceded them, I’ve decided to get a head start on my semiannual “performance review.”
The most significant immediate change in the life of a retiree is the sharp reduction in his face-to-face contact with others. Being a natural isolate, for me the change approached its theoretical ultimate. At this point, except for my wife and the occasional retail clerk or artisan, I conduct nearly all my interactions with other persons through email. Nor am I particularly distressed about that, as it relieves me of many burdens and affords me time to read, write, and think.
My sense for my relations with others has sharpened. I’ve become aware, rather uncomfortably so, how difficult to bear my company can be. Given my tendency to jabber uncontrollably when in company and the lack of success I’ve had at curbing it, I doubt this will change. However, now that I’m alone nearly all the time, I can take solace in having minimized the irritation to others.
The gift of time has also enhanced my prayer life. I attend Mass on average six days per week. I spend a bit of each day in contemplation, and I offer a prayer of gratitude before I close my eyes at night. These are unalloyed blessings. Among the benefits that flow from them, this is not the least: I have become more aware of how much I have to be grateful for...and how blindly I once took so much of it for granted.
Am I improving in any sense? I doubt it. But then, I’m hardly the best person to ask, as I’m “with myself” all the time. Persons who connect with me at longer intervals would be better equipped to judge, and at this point there aren’t any. My hope is that when I’m brought to the Bar of Judgment, God will decide that my good points outweigh my bad ones. That’s all I’ve ever hoped for.
All of the above are the sort of benefit one would hope to derive from a retreat. Sadly, not many persons indulge in such a thing any more. We’re all too damned busy.
Have there been other developments? Of course, but they’re trivial. How interested are you, Gentle Reader, in how much of my day is spent playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare? I mean, really! All the significant stuff is in the segment above; the rest is merely the putterings of an old man straining to stay out of others’ way, and occasionally do something of value, during his final years in the flesh.
I don’t think God begrudges us decrepit sorts our putterings, or our trivial amusements. The closing stanza of a life must include some amount of pleasant distraction, if only to keep us from annoying others. The reverse would leave us frenzied and exhausted, of no good to others and possibly more of a burden on them than we would otherwise be. We who’ve left off with economic activity must fill our remaining time somehow, and surely keeping pleasantly amused is among the criteria.
I worry about the rest of you. Many persons I’ve known have led lives so overfull with obligations and so short of time for rest and thought that I can’t help but wonder how they’ve borne it all. That’s not a criticism, merely an observation. For most of my life, I was like that too.
It was a great part of why, when I was a young man obsessed with “making my mark,” I drifted away from faith.
Recently there’s been a commercial on television for a drug / alcohol rehabilitation center that emphasizes that “you can bring your cell phone and laptop!” (I’m pretty sure it caters solely to the very well heeled.) The possibility that being continuously available and perpetually connected, via one’s cell phone and the Internet, might have something to do with one’s dependencies on drugs or booze should be of interest to the proprietors of such an establishment. I do hope they know what they’re doing.
I mention this because of a bit of knowledge that seems to me to fall into the “obvious / overlooked” category:
In “worldly things” I include the bulk of our interactions with others.
We need time to ourselves – time during which we let the rest of the world spin past on its own. But the percent of his time the average adult American spends that way is growing perilously small.
Having time each day merely to amuse oneself, or just to sit and think, greatly improves one’s life. Yet we’re practically taught to avoid such periods – to stay as busy as possible virtually all the time. The emphasis on work, on “multitasking” (which, as a former expert in the architecture of multitasking operating systems for embedded devices, I can assure you is always an illusion) and on achieving ever more per unit time is using us up in ways we don’t always perceive and even less often appreciate. You’d almost suspect that time spent in introspection had been deemed an offense against the social norms.
If our steady advances in productivity should bestow any particular gift upon us, it should be a fund of personal discretionary time. The irony of having to forgo that fund until retirement should be lost on no one.
We are intended to be more complete than we have lately become. We are not merely nodes of production and consumption. But we cannot be more unless we contrive to find the time for it...and learn not to fear what a little self-examination might teach us about ourselves.
God loves us, each and all, but not because we’re so efficient. It’s because we are made in His image: creatures with immortal souls of infinite value. Remember that even He took a day off after He’d completed his best-known project.
May God bless and keep you all.