Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Op-Ed Columns

Retirement is a new beginning


David W. Andersen is a "retired" minister and now pastoral associate at the First Presbyterian Church in Maumee.

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WHEN I retired, on my last Sunday, I said to the congregation I had served as pastor for 18 1/2 years, "Whatever was to be has been."

I truly meant it. After 38 years as a minister, it was over; I had finished whatever it was I had aspired to and sought to fulfill.

I went home, ready to begin my new life.

I felt I adjusted easily. I enjoyed being at home. I played golf with friends. I kept the house clean. I woke up the same time as when I was working, but now, the day that stretched before me was of my own making. When I read, the books I selected were chosen by my interests rather than an obligation to remain abreast in my professional field. When my wife and I vacationed there was no counting down the days before having to return to work.

It was an idyllic time, but less than six months into it, surprising myself as much as anyone, I went back to work, although part time.

What came over me? I had fit so easily into retirement, why mess with a good thing? Why try to compromise it with even a part-time position?

Reflecting on these questions I don't believe it was a buried psychological need to be wanted or prove myself, although perhaps there are ways these issues are always present but not always recognized.

What I found instead is something not at all in contradiction with what were my best hopes looking forward to retirement.

When your career path is finished, when you no longer have quite the worry you once did over job advancement or job security, when you realize you don't need so many accoutrements previously provided by a job, work takes on a different meaning.

It is less tied to personal wants and desires and even needs. There is a renewed awareness of the preciousness of life and the desire to be in it and a part of it. Work, whether as a volunteer or in a part-time, paid position, becomes an expression of gratitude toward life.

Years ago in the church I pastored there was a group of volunteers who cleaned the church building every Monday morning. They were all retired.

One of the members of the group had been vice president of a major national corporation. On Monday mornings at the church he could be seen mopping a hallway or vacuuming the carpet in a classroom. It was hard for me to grasp how he could go from all the authority and power of a vice president's position to finding satisfaction in a clean floor or rug.

I think I am beginning to understand. You do because you can. You give, not for the expectation of reward, but as an expression of the joy and wonderment of life.

I feel privileged in my new part-time position. It calls upon the skills I practiced as a pastor, but this time I feel less distracted and more present to the people I am called upon to visit in the nursing home or hospital.

Strangely, the model in my mind has been the image of the greeters, retired and working part-time, at the big box stores. Their job is to make you feel welcome, and from what I have observed, they are sincere about it. Their smiles are real.

But how can it be when hour after hour they stand in one place greeting visitor after visitor? They know something we spend a lifetime trying to learn - life is good, life is precious, and worthy of all the hardship and pain that inevitably accompany it.

Thomas Merton, a monk, wrote about leaving his monastery in Kentucky for a trip to Louisville. He had lived for years behind closed walls where his days were spent in worship and prayer. He wondered what his reaction would be to the big city. Would he find it overwhelming after all his years of retreat? Would he find it sinful after all his years of prayer?

What he found, standing on a crowded street corner in downtown Louisville, was an overwhelming love for all the strangers who passed by. What he found was great joy and exuberance for the everyday, common magnificence of life. I think it is this same love and exuberance we find with the many retirees who continue to volunteer or work part-time.

Why do we see so many people in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and even 90s, still choosing part-time employment or providing hours of volunteer service each week to organizations that could not otherwise operate?

Why are there so many people in the latter stage of their life so involved reading books, attending lectures, filling concert halls, traveling the world, keeping abreast of current affairs, visiting the sick and dying, or even serving up hamburgers in a fast-food restaurant?

Why do they do it?

For some it is economic necessity. I know as well there remains in us some element of our identity that is tied to work. But I suspect that even if all these needs were cared for, there would be little drop in the numbers labeled "retired" who would still be activity engaged.

I believe the answer is when at last you are given a reprieve from the routine of raising a family or building a career, you rediscover what is inextricably true, all the time, but sometimes lost to us, and that is life is inexhaustibly interesting. It is precious in itself.

It is its own reward. It is worth all our engagement with it, all we give to it.

I am only beginning that part of my journey. I am a novice, still learning, but part of that learning for me has been to accept a part-time position.

I am also realizing the last statement I made before retirement that, "whatever was to be has been," is in need of a drastic revision, perhaps something more along the line of, "whatever was to be, has only just begun."

David W. Andersen is a "retired" minister and now pastoral associate at the First Presbyterian Church in Maumee.

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