Recently I was sitting at a four-way light, looking at the people in the other lanes, all of us waiting for our signal to proceed. My vehicle pointed North towards home. It was a sunny but cool afternoon, as we’re getting glimpses of warmth here in the Northeast. It is still March, after all.
While I sat watching the other cars, I noticed the humans in them. It occurred to me that for the 52 years I’ve been driving, I always saw the cars on the road, but not the people inside them. That day I looked into the cars while we all sat idling, and saw people of all ages, drivers and passengers. Gripping their steering wheels, most of them focused on the lights in front of them. They appeared mesmerized by them while sitting in their own little fiefdoms. I recognized the old me in their appearances and realized something about myself.
There has always been an internal force pushing me to rush through life. Grow up, have a family, try different career paths; I thrived on the fast track of life until retirement.
Retirement took a couple of years to transition to completely. I couldn’t let go overnight, so I worked as a consultant for the company for a few months afterward because I missed my coworkers and the hubbub at the office. Then, I worked as a substitute teacher at not one but two local schools, until I realized the pace was too much for me. I settled in one school and worked with elementary classes full of cute, funny, and sweet little people. When I realized I was working almost every day, I learned to say the word “no”. After all, doctor appointments take precedence when you’re my age.
I want to be clear, working as a sub is not for the fainthearted. There were days I didn’t get to go to the bathroom until we made sure they were all on the buses on their way home. Lunch time, if I got one, was a half hour of inhaling food. Lunch didn’t exist most days, so I would eat my snack when the kids went to their specials or out to recess, unless I was the recess or lunch monitor. I loved the smiles and high-fives I got, and the pictures they drew for me during indoor recess. I have those tucked away along with drawings from my grandchildren for days when I need to remember to smile. I loved every moment of time spent with my little friends, because it always felt like a classroom full of grandchildren. Once COVID-19 closed the schools, I retired for real.
Now I move at my pace, far away from the fast track. The race has transitioned into a saunter through life, where I have time to write, crochet, kayak, or take online Spanish lessons to my heart’s content. When looking back at my 69 years on this planet, I realize retirement is my gift, a time to reflect on lessons learned and the people who have meant so much to me. Sure, there are physical issues that weren’t there in my 40s, or even my 50s, and I take more meds than I ever imagined I would. That’s true.
However, the trade-off is the wisdom gained from experiencing life, the self-confidence that grew from conquering challenges in life, and the spirituality that germinated from sharing this earthly plane with so many wonderful humans.
Looking forward to my 70s, I’m not in such a hurry anymore. I have nowhere that I need to race off to. I don’t mind sitting at a light or getting in line and waiting for my turn. I thrive on the connections with my family and friends because it means we are all still here right now, at this moment, within hugging distance.
Retirement reminds me every day that I am not in a race, but living my life as the best, and wisest, version of myself to date.