Tuesday, October 20, 2015

An Extended Retreat: A Midweek Rumination

     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:

To the extent that one concentrates on worldly things, he neglects his own mental and spiritual health.

     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.


Malatrope said...

Be careful. Contemplation in solace can be as much a frantic time as desperately attempting to meet a deadline imposed by your boss. You've simply become your own boss, and usually this kind of executive administration is the most harsh. Don't make this mistake! Concentrate on changing yourself from a Type A personality to a Type B. Let things go. Float lazily in the stream. Do what interests you at each moment, guided only by your principles and some goal worthy of being explained to a stranger without embarrassment or guilt.

I picked a goal that can be described in two words, is instantly comprehensible, yet is so complex it involves nearly every technology and scientific pursuit known to man, that if achieved can be written about to help others do the same, and that if circumstances are dire may save the lives of my children and grandchildren. How's that for grandiose? Here are the two words: "Become self-sufficient".

I have become fascinated with what might be done to bring all our knowledge to bear on the problem of ripping a modern living condition out of the most minimal of support resources. Do we ever intend to become a space-faring species? If so, these skills demand to be developed. A huge field of study lies open to be created.

If it can't be done on my acre of ground in a friendly environment, it can't be done on an asteroid or an L5 colony vehicle. So, I while away my free time like a Jubal Harshaw in overalls. I fiddle with energy generation, management and storage, food production, repair and manufacturing methods, information storage and retrieval, extreme automation, learning new things like extracting metals from rock, additive manufacturing, blowing glass, and fuels chemistry. Oh, and keeping an engineering notebook so the ideas don't blow away in the wind.

Ok, I'll stop rambling on about a method of retirement that's damn near impossible in a big city. I'm a generalist living on land in remote country, so this approach is available to me, but I'll admit not everyone is so lucky. Given the way the entire world is coming apart at the seams, I feel sometimes like I'm trying to single-handedly build a little dynastic monastery within which to archive civilization while everything falls to rags around me. But they burned the Library of Alexandria to the ground, didn't they? What chance my efforts mean anything? This is all a useless waste of money I could be spending on video games. Wait! That way lay demons, take not that path, back to happy thoughts...!

Thank you for using the term "multi-tasking" correctly. It's primary value is in managing multi-processing. The office metaphor is the difference between a roomful of people each struggling to do everything, and one good multi-tasker directing a room full of experts each concentrating on the one thing they do well. Another skill that will be lost once all of us old farts die off. It's antithetical to collectivists. After we're gone, the clueless, untrained remnants will be helpless to fend off the barbarians that will come marching through the gates, chanting and swinging their scimitars ... whoa! Demons again! *smacks self*

I gotta go work on an airfoil design. Retirement is wonderful. Do what you can to enjoy the hell right out of it, Francis. Ignore the demons, and if they get close enough, gut them where they stand.

Stacey said...

I've enjoyed your blog for many years now, I read every day. Your writing style and logic help me understand current events in a way that I've always wanted to but never could in my youth. I am 45 years old and just beginning to understand the world around me. You and a few others who put pen to paper on these interwebs have opened my eyes, and have me hanging on every word. I hope you always find time for blogging in your retirement.

Enjoy your new found freedom.

Ron Olson said...

Alone time is wonderful although it could be awful if it is imposed rather than sought.
You are right about the waste of life to only discover solitude after retirement because it adds such depth to the appreciation of the obvious. I thank you for writing down "things" everyday to share with us as it complements my solace beautifully. Almost wish I were retired too.