The Unexpected Journey
Chapter 14

The New Beginning

It has been a few months since I have written regarding this book, and there has been a major change for me.  I turned 70 and on that day I retired!  Have I learned yet what retirement means?  No!  Other than knowing that I will have to cope with some basic changes, discard some old (and longstanding) routines, and learn a lot of new things (including the meaning of daily sounds, a new routine, a new time table, how to share an office [at home], a new keyboard, a new desk and chair, and how to do my share around the house without driving my wife crazy).

As I approached my retirement, I learned a lot about myself.  Lest I create a misunderstanding, the learning was about ME, not the people around me or the people I worked with.  Everyone continues to be extremely gracious to me.  The kindnesses I receive commonly embarrass me—I constantly feel I am severely limited in ways to show appreciation. 

Going from the role of the one who helped to the role of the one needing help is a difficult, challenging transition.  For me, it is not one easily made—it is definitely a continuing process!  I now have a new, deeper understanding of how little a “thank you” seems when you feel deeply indebted.  In the past I received many such “thank yous” with too shallow an understanding of the frustration I saw.  Now I give those “thank yous” with a new appreciation of the frustration.

Before retirement, Joyce and I decided we would do some needed renovations on our house.  The time definitely will come when I must be in a wheelchair.  Our carpet was old when we came on November 1, 1996, and it had not been changed.  We were told by a knowing person we trusted (John Lindgren) that a wheelchair would destroy carpet—old or new—in a short time.  We needed to decide what we would need in the future, and decide quickly. This “one time” decision would not be settled by time!  Urgency said NOW and time said BE CAREFUL AND SMART.

Joyce made a wise choice, and the dominoes started falling.  Since the change involved 7 rooms and 2 halls, we asked several days in advance, “Where will you begin?”  Preparing books and moving furniture would be no small task!  Based on the first answer we prepared.

Then we learned 12 hours prior to beginning (at 7 p.m. on a Wednesday night) that beginning would involve rooms we had not even touched.  Some people from church told us not to be concerned.  Blake Frost and Shane Hughes arranged for a huge group of adults—young and older—to come to our house directly from the assembly to move things.  In 45 minutes electronics and furniture were moved—all we did was watch and advise.  The group left giving us assurance that if we would tell them when the project was complete, they would return and put everything back into place—which they did!

The incident made me feel three things: Old but very blessed, the awkwardness of going from mover to observer, and the inadequacy of “thank you.”  I will never be able to do anything for many who helped.  Yes, I know that one does not repay blessings with deeds.  Yes, I know a person must be willing to receive as well as give (if no one received, what would those do who invest their lives in giving?  Everyone needs to do both—give and receive.).  However, knowing may not change how one feels.  To me, nothing makes you feel your age quite like combining house renovation with retirement.  If aging means discovering new limitations, combining those two things surely did it for me.


My Current Reality

Circumstances made a decision for me.  I considered two things a lot: How long should I continue this book (hopefully as long as I live there will be something to write), and how should I close the book?  Neither were easy considerations for me.  As is often the case, I usually have more that I wish to share than I have time and opportunity to share.

Shortly before I retired, I slowly but certainly began losing coordination in my fingers.  It was (is) nothing radical, but it is undeniable.  It became more and more obvious to me as this lack of coordination expressed its presence in a number of tasks. 

In nothing is this lack of coordination more obvious to me than in my typing.  Typing has been my primary way of communicating since my speech became a problem.  (Just this morning Joyce and I were laughing—we each had written important notes to ourselves last night and could not read our own notes this morning!  That would be terrible were it not so hilarious!)

My typing has become quite slow.  I get off home keys a lot.  I commonly have to spend more time looking at my fingers and the keyboard than at the screen.  I used to love to look at the screen only as I translated my thoughts to written words.  Now I have to divide my attention between striking the right key and my thoughts.  I likely spend as much time correcting as I spend composing! 

I discussed this problem with my longtime secretary, Debbie Belote, and we agreed that I should finish the book.  This situation is a specific illustration of continuing, worsening problems already discussed.  (1) Take nothing for granted.  Because something can be done today does not mean it can be done in the near future.  (2) Do what you can do right now because you can do it.  Procrastination is not an option!

I will try to end this book with this section.  I can write more latter if my finger coordination holds steady. 


My Retirement Plan

I knew my retirement would not be a simple adjustment for me.  That was just a matter of being honest with me.  Schedules always have been important to me.  I always have enjoyed “being involved” and “being productive.”  With that personality type it was easy to overcommit—which I often did!  To me, always the way to do more was to (1) schedule one’s time better, (2) improve one’s priorities, and (3) learn how to make better use of the help that was available.

Retirement totally would change my longstanding schedule.  For quite a while, my involvement and productivity had been declining. Retirement would accelerate that decline. A new learning curve would demand a re-education.  Hot weather restrictions would become even more frustrating at home when I had “the time and opportunity.”  Long accepted choices would have to be revisited.  Combine all that with a deep desire not to frustrate my wife by being home so much, and retirement (to me) was a problem to be solved.

If I could be outside when it was hot, work in my yard, and sweat as much as I wished, there would be no problem.  Obviously, the problem is not retirement, but the restrictions of spinal cerebellum atrophy #8.  Retirement would only exacerbate the problems produced by the atrophy.  However, it was easier for me to blame retirement than atrophy.

Planning what I initially would do upon retiring was simple.  Joyce made it simple, fun, and did all the work—lucky me!  This was the plan: we would take a vacation with Anita, our daughter, and Mark, our son-in-law, who live in San Francisco, California.  I would retire the evening of June 3 and we would leave on June 4 on vacation.  We would drive to Memphis, spend the evening with our son, Kevin, and his family (thus seeing all of our children in less than a month), park our car at Linda’s mom’s house, fly non-stop to Las Vegas to meet Anita and Mark, pick up a rental car, and prepare to enjoy Zion National Park and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  Combined with other plans, this vacation would require us to be gone for two weeks.  (I teased several by saying that I retired from preaching one day and headed to Vegas the next.)

Though things did not work out as smoothly as we planned (like the 4 hour plus delay of the first flight), we had a wonderful time.  The desert was having a heat wave (107 degrees was the highest temperature, but the 9% humidity made any shade cool and wonderful).  At Zion we looked up in amazement, and at the Grand Canyon we looked down in amazement.  After visits to Crossville, TN (the childhood home of both of us) and Freed-Hardman University (Joyce’s college), we returned home quite tired and still in vacation mode.  For days after we returned we were still “on vacation,” the congregation gave us a wonderful and generous retirement party, and I did not face the experience of retirement for almost a month after the fact.

For about 4 months before the trip, I prepared as hard as I knew how.  I must admit that several things made me anxious about so ambitious an undertaking.  My last few flights on an airplane gave me reason to be anxious—the narrow seats, the lack of exercise, the inaccessibility of bathrooms, etc.  I am slow, getting slower, and if I try to hurry I become more likely to make noticeable mistakes.  Obviously, I constantly become more self-conscious.  I feel a constant need to apologize because I commonly feel like I am inconveniencing others.  The challenge not to be so self-focused is a constant, growing challenge.  Things that are HUGELY noticeable to me about me are likely insignificant to others.  Yes, I know that but that is not how I feel.

The good news is I made the trip and thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Being with Joyce, Anita, and Mark was just plain fun!  The scenery was gorgeous and the spirit of adventure was beyond description!  I had a little trouble with the overhead bins on the airplane, but kind people always helped me.  The things I feared might happen—like choking in public while eating—never occurred once.  Only the last day of our road trip home did my left leg and hip begin cramping.


My Reality Is My Reality

I knew me!  I did not need to be at work one day and retired the next, nor did I need to spend time at the church building constantly reminding myself that I did not have an office there and was not on staff.  I enjoy the staff too much to make myself a nuisance!  Everyone is too kind to tell me to leave, but I needed to go.  Hanging around would benefit no one!

The need for me to know and accept an actual transition occurred was essential.  If I were to adjust to the transition as easily as possible, I had to know the transition was real—no pretending!  To me, a vacation permitted separation to occur in my actuality without a shocking trauma of denial.  The vacation was enjoyable while allowing the transition to occur. I could hear and use the word “retirement” without saying, “Oh, no—I cannot believe this is happening!”  I could return home with no job expectations.

I do not mean it was a simple, no-brainer task.  Toward the end of the vacation, I would catch myself thinking, “When I get home, I have to do . . .”   That allowed me to immediately respond, “Oh, no I don’t.”  All I am saying is that this approach (so far) worked for me in accepting my retirement as a reality.

Retirement quickly produced benefits.  Freedom from the stress I placed on myself and the absence of deadlines is wonderful!  So is the flexibility!  It is early, but while the adjustments are real, there are also some undeniable benefits.

Copyright 2010

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