Having friends has been important at every stage in my life, but especially in retirement. I recall this song from my childhood that I think makes even more sense to me today Make New Friends, But Keep the Old, Visiting an old friend from West Virginia yesterday felt so good. We raised our children together, survived losing our husbands together, and now enjoy our grandchildren together. We are bonded forever; even if we only see each other once a year, we pick right up where we left off.
Being friends is easy at this stage. We know each others’ families, have common friends, been to all the same places, and share a lot of things in common - like wearing a comfortable pair of old shoes. But, retirement changes the landscape. Finally, there is time to participate fully in activities that have been impossible until now - golf, travel, sports, dining, crafts, photography, writing - whatever looks to be fun. Maybe old friends or sometimes relatives are available to accompany us, maybe not. Do we dare go it alone?
I recall my mother-in-law and my grandmother complaining as they grew older that all their friends were gone. They had us, the family, but still felt like something was missing. Because they were primarily homemakers (and wonderful at it), they did not develop outside interests and friends beyond the neighborhood. They did not belong to any club or groups; they did not play cards or exercise. Never having ventured out of their comfort zone on their own, when they had to relinquish the housework to others, they did not know what to do with themselves.
So, the lesson here is keep making new friends all your life. Venture out. Fearful? Great! Do something every day that scares you. (Quote may be from Eleanor Roosevelt, can't be proven, but it is a good one!) Try something new - something on your own. Be open to developing a closer friendship with someone you meet in your regular day to day out of the house activities. Be brave and interact with people of various color, culture, and class. Be aware of attraction and chemistry that sparks when you meet someone. Share your business card (Yes, you are in the business of being retired!) to invite the friendship to blossom or better yet, put their contact information right into your phone. Connect on Facebook - a great place to get to know a new acquaintance better. Be an up to date retiree! The song, Make New Friends, But Keep the Old, was sung as a round for a reason, and it usually went on and on, because this is one job that is never done.
Advice whether or not you ask: Make seeking new friends part of your retirement job description.
This stage of life called retirement is the gift of time - the time to finally do what one wants. That distant light at the end of the tunnel - the destination - is finally reached. You have arrived! Now what? Viewed as a destination, retirement proves disappointing. You are still the same person, but have lost your identity in this process. How do you now define yourself?
Do you obsess about financial or health issues? Do you uproot and move to a different climate? Do you seek a creative living arrangement around other retirees? Do you join life long learning classes? While each of these conventional ideas of retirement are valid activities, they do not feed the new identity that you seek. In his book, Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes, William Bridges calls these ideas diversions from the work that needs to be done in retirement. He says, "The final chapter of the work life may or may not involve salaried work, but it must return to society the fruits of those discoveries made during the third quarter of life." (97)
How to share your gifts, skills, and life lessons can be hard to identify. One repeated recommendation for mining the fruits of your life experience is to meditate. I am trying to learn how to do that. It is easy to pray to a higher being and wait for a response. It is much harder to look inside and honor your own thoughts and being with action. Silence, helps.
Early in my retirement I committed to a week without TV to explore this concept of silence and quieting of the mind. Since the news and weather were my main reasons for watching TV, I subscribed to The Skim, read online news on Twitter, and checked the weather on my phone. Done. I rarely turn on TV now, and find that comforting. I do watch one specific program, Downton Abby (can't help it, I love the cultural conflicts!), AND when my daughter calls me to say that the sky is falling, "Turn on the TV!"
I find this silence refreshing and imagine that my brain is working much better than when it was on media overload.(No scientific evidence, just my feeling.) A good friend advises that life flows by like a river with many distractions, diversions, attractions, and addictions and the challenge is to pay attention and snag those attractions that resonate with you and act on them. Honoring that advice, I am taking a two week vacation from this blog to respond to an attraction that has surfaced - to assist in completing a grant application for a start-up non-profit, Reading Kingdoms, with a looming due date of March 18 - honoring my own thoughts with action. It's something that will make a difference for children in Pawtucket, RI and in American education. Teachers have good ideas. I want to support solutions that come from the trenches, not from the top.
Advice whether or not you ask: Change it up! Whatever is your passion, do it!
Destination weddings are the new rage. I just attended a mountain top wedding in Vermont , temperature 18°. Seated on benches, the guests were wrapped in blankets, surrounded by outdoor heaters. Under the toile fabric and pine decorated birch-log chuppah, the beautiful non Jewish bride in a strapless gown and her Jewish groom vowed to honor and cherish each other for the rest of their lives. The reception included toasts, dancing, and fabulous food, but no cake cutting drama – the five tiered cake was cut and served up from the kitchen! Tradition and modernity were juxtaposed in the creation of a moment that will reflect the couple’s lives from now on.
I am looking in the mirror for a moment and reflecting on my own marriage of 42 years to the only Jewish boy in town. Colleen and Misha’s story is yet to be written, but my thoughts on this major transition in life may be of interest. In 1968 our interfaith marriage was viewed with curiosity and concern; we were cautioned by both families and friends that it couldn't work, but we didn't listen, of course. At nineteen and twenty, we knew everything, and it felt right to us - all that mattered.
I confess that religious practices and food preferences created conflict, but we addressed these issues head on, because they were obvious cultural differences. Luckily I liked to cook and eventually learned how; some of Frank's favorite Jewish dishes even became favorites of mine and my gentile family. As for religion, we agreed to disagree and carried on with our lives, never merging the two, and never abandoning our beliefs. Our children grew up respecting both religions and are moral independent thinkers today. All that worry and concern about the children was for naught. As our cultures clashed, our lives became richer and more interesting, as we mined family traditions for the best and sometimes created our own.
It was those subtle cultural traditions that color everything that caused more trouble. How do you react to a crisis? What are the rules for spending and saving money? How do you discipline the children? Who will do what household chores? Those daily decisions, clouded by family of origin culture, threatened peace in the union. The cultural piece was invisible and the conflict became personal. Most conflict has culture at the root.
The caution that should be observed in forging relationships, not just a marriage, is not to avoid the possibility of conflict, but to embrace it with ferver and learn the lessons that exploring different cultures provides. Tradition and modernity can co-exist peacefully. An adventure awaits.