Friday, June 5, 2015

Planning Retirement

Summer evening in early June. No need yet for the lamps in my friend’s condo. Through the sliding glass door that leads onto his balcony, light comes in across the stretch of a green suburban field.

We are some distance from the city into which my friend travels five days a week. The starched shirt and tie he wears on his twice-daily journeys on the commuter rail have been dropped this evening in favor of polo shirt and walking shorts.

Because of an unseasonable coolness earlier this week, he pads around his unit in white socks. I am not the kind of company he needs to tailor his look for. He expects to be able to spend an hour or two with me this evening and put on no airs.

He rests a foot on the edge of the coffee table. With an easy sigh he puts aside the man who tackles projects head on during the day, sticking his head into colleagues’ offices, delivering the occasional bad news, relying on the weight of decades of employment within the same institution.

It is an employment that he does not yet consider leaving. He is entering his sixties, though, and we talk retirement. Do we either of us know what we expect that to mean? Any idea what we want it to mean? And how soon?

Will it end up a bit like a weekend we leave unplanned? We can wonder sometimes what stories we will get to tell on Sunday night or Monday morning when we have taken no particular pains to create the stuff of stories over the previous forty-eight hours.

Would it be all right to spend the next fifteen, twenty, twenty-five years in a similar mode? Let’s call it “more of the same.”

And then my friend surprises me. There is something in his voice. He does not want to imagine having waited until retirement to do certain things and then find himself facing an illness that extinguishes plans and projects.

He is thinking of his parents and their final years over which he personally watched. In both cases, final years lived too early, concluded too soon.

He wants to learn how to play the organ, he confesses. The right way, not the way he taught himself years ago.

I want to spend more time each day praying. And writing. And reading.

We vow to look for ways in the near future to take long walks together on a regular basis. We want to stay healthy.

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