Much to my own astonishment I’m now 68 years of age, in that post-retirement life-stage that is sometimes politely called senior adulthood, elderhood, graceful aging, or “saging.” I enjoy spending much of my time reflecting, reading, writing, relaxing, listening to music, appreciating nature, beauty and art, sauntering outdoors, watching movies, going to occasional plays and concerts, eating out, dining in, and enjoying stimulating conversations with friends.
For several years now I’ve been retired while my wife continues to work, and so I’ve needed to find creative ways to occupy myself each day while she continues to march off each day to serve others as a dedicated nurse assisting kids with severe physical and mental disabilities.
I’ve had to come to terms with the “invisibility” and “disposability” of retirement. After a life time serving in a rather visible hybrid vocation in ministry, education and counseling, being retired has mean that I have no natural platform or forum from which to address and engage others. I have needed to discover and create a new series of venues for continuing conversations to take place. Besides writing in my blog from time to time I enjoy periodically teaching adult seminars at the Osher Life-Long Learning Institute associated with Southern Oregon University, along with hosting a monthly Villa Sophia conversational salon, starting men’s growth group, and now, launching a monthly book discussion group. It’s a good life!
Recently I had coffee with a younger adult, a delightful younger person in her late 30s whose life is quite busy and full with working, going back to school, raising a teen age son, supporting her mother who lives with her, and starting to date someone new after another relationship ended some time ago. She thinks she might like to pursue a career in counseling. Other than assigned reading for school classes, she presently has no time for reading for pleasure and personal enrichment. While I am empathic of her situation, I must admit that it is quite alien to where I find myself at this season of my life. If I have any primary focus right now it is the cultivation of wisdom and the enrichment of friendship. I’ve completed those other life-tasks like school, work, dating and parenting years ago and have no desire to re-visit them.
What struck me in all this is the truism that we each live through different seasons of life. Of course there are many other factors in play that influence and shape us during each life passage, including our family background, life experiences, personal relationships, psychological temperament, educational experiences, work history, worldview perspective, and lifestyle choices. But none of this changes the fact that we live through difference seasons of life. In the most simple of terms, we pass through the process of birth, infancy, childhood, youth, early adulthood, mid-life, elderhood, aging, infirmity and death. It is the common human condition, the universal sojourn. How we navigate these various life-stages is a matter of personal courage, resourcefulness, intelligence and creativity.
For the past several years now I’ve been coping with an autoimmune disease known as poly-mialgia-rheumatica, or PRM, and I must say it has crimped my style. I’ve had lots of medical consultation and have adopted a non-inflammatory diet, among other healthy choices, but PRM doesn’t just go away. I’ve learned that I may have to dance with it for the rest of my life. It makes me extremely weak, aching and tired at times with flu-like symptoms. Some days I have no energy to do anything at all. You say, “Well Rich, welcome to the human race.” And you would be right. Countless people deal with chronic illnesses, especially those who are getting along in years. I think that at some point we choose to do everything we can to take care of our health, to live pro-actively, and address any potential causes of illness. But at the same time we learn to accept life as it comes to us from day to day, and especially to savor those special moments in which we experience wonder and beauty, grandeur and tenderness in the midst of the ordinary stream of life. And we learn to meet ourselves half-way.
What matters the most to me these days is two-fold: Wisdom and Friendship. I value the continued cultivation of the integral life of the heart and mind. For me this means a continuing journey of reflection and discovery as I explore various personal dimensions, life systems, historical ages, human civilizations, worldview perspectives and intellectual disciplines. And for me this also means enjoying the friends of a small circle of fellow travelers with whom we mutually share each other’s suffering and joy, wisdom and experience as we explore “The Great Conversation” together.