When a co-worker retired several years ago, my last words to her were, “Congratulations! You’ve escaped. Enjoy your freedom!” At last, at last, she was no longer a slave to someone else’s schedule. I was deeply envious.
I’ve always thought that true leisure time is a much rarer commodity than money, taking dramatically more effort to acquire. Those of us who are not independently wealthy find that leisure costs us dearly. Unless we hold a winning lottery ticket at some median point, we have to toil through 45 birthdays in youth and middle age to be able to get off the clock in our golden years. Outside the rarefied air of hedge fund managers and elected officials, the rest of us work damn hard to achieve leisure time, whether it’s a few snatched hours on weekends or actual seasons of relaxation post-employment. Even after official retirement, unless we’ve been lucky enough to have income to put aside, and prudent enough to do so, we often enter lean times once the last paycheck has been deposited.
My uneasiness about the future has obscured my sense of freedom since losing my job more than ten months ago. Until very recently, I truly believed, was bound and determined, that I’d be back to work in an office some way, somehow. As I’ve mentioned, the pandemic has put the kibosh to that conviction. Now, I speculate that, eventually, I may work a few hours here and there, but I’m not optimistic in the short run. I remain in a holding pattern, divesting myself of angst as much as possible. I’ve continued to chain myself to the computer, cell phone, and landline all day, just in case. Even if I’ve gone out on the porch or deck, I’ve taken along the handsets, because I wouldn’t want to miss anything. I spent hours on our vacation last fall, emailing and talking with recruiters, conscientiously submitting applications. On camping weekends, I’ve done the same. Since the beginning of the year, I haven’t really thought I’d get the call, but I’ve felt duty-bound to be available no matter what.
The other day, I was sitting on the deck, eating my morning yogurt, and I saw that in the storm the night before, several potted plants had blown off the railing, and there was a pile of dirt and broken leaves on the deck planks. I’d just gone outside for a few minutes, so I hadn’t bothered to take the phones, unusual in itself. I cleaned up the mess and restored the pots, then noticed that some fronds from the vine over the deck were hanging down, blocking the sun from my husband’s favorite geraniums. I went out to the garage and got the clippers to remove the offending tendrils and make the geraniums happy. In doing so, I went around the corner of the deck and realized that the same vine had invaded the holly bushes at the foot of the steps. The tops of the holly are about eight feet up, and I couldn’t find the step ladder, so I expended at least 15 minutes in trial and error, with rakes and the tree pruner, figuring out how to snag the vine and pull it loose from the bushes. I hoped the neighbors weren’t watching, because I was pretty sure my struggles were fodder for a home video reality show. Eventually, I won, the vine lost.
Having come that far, I decided it was as good a time as any to clear the back flowerbed of an onslaught of ground cover creepers that have spread everywhere. I’d been planning to wait until the weekend, but I had the tools out and had already worked up a sweat, so I attacked the marauders. I achieved a temporary victory, because they’ll be back, short of applying a flamethrower, but the flower bed looked much less choked.
Looking past the bed, I spotted several of what I call “junk trees,” the invasive varieties always seen along untended fences and throughout vacant lots. Like everyone else in our area, we have an ongoing battle to remove the shoots and saplings before they grow tall. I hadn’t checked that part of the yard in several weeks, and some of the obnoxious trees had sneaked in. Back to the garage I went, to get the heavy-duty shears.
It was as I was walking along the garage that it struck me: I didn’t have the phones with me, and had actually been without them for a couple hours. I’d given zero thought to being wired in, and instead, had just been puttering along, going from task to task as they occurred to me, with no plan. I had been in the moment for most of the day so far. That awareness sparked an odd feeling: for a moment, I felt untethered, as if I’d lost a reference point. Then a light dawned: “So, THIS is what it feels like to be retired! I get it!” Immediately followed by sheer contentment at the thought of not having to answer to anyone. I could be offline and out of touch all day, and it wouldn’t matter. On the heels of that realization, my inner wise woman commented, “And you’ve earned that freedom!” She’s right, and I need to keep paying attention to her until she doesn’t have to tell me anymore.