Growing Old With A Grateful Heart

To retire or not retire – that is the question, to which I speedily and emphatically replied, “No brainer – retire!” After 23 years at the Harwich Police Department, and years before working as a waitress, dog groomer, corrections officer, nurse’s aide, Teddy bear maker and child care provider and in newspaper editorial, it was time.

Some congratulated me on my decision, some comments were cautionary – what would I do with my free time? Those who knew me best realized I would continue to do what I had done for 40 plus years while raising five boys, volunteering at church, schools and the community. The only difference is that I don’t have to work around my day job any longer. Now there would be time to paint, write, walk on the beach, care for grandkids and ponder life’s mysteries.

Psychologists say some people have a hard time adjusting to retirement. If one’s identity and social network is tied to one’s work, retirement can be a desolate and lonely landscape, leaving a person with no sense of identity, feeling purposeless. I have seen a lot of hardworking, driven men who just won’t quit. They have enough money, but they avoid retiring. They’ll never admit it, but they’re afraid. They fear a structureless life. When working, they plowed through each day, too busy to indulge in developing hobbies or satisfying passions. Retirement looms as a scary obstacle and it’s easier to literally “die in the harness” than face the consequences. Women seem to have fewer problems with the adjustment, probably because they’ve lived a lifetime of nurturing relationships and engaged in sewing, cooking, book clubs and other hobbies, even while working.

For some, retirement has a negative connotation; it can signal the official beginning of the end. But let’s examine the word itself. If you were to re-tire your car, you would replace its wheels, which would surely gain a new lease on life for the vehicle, with a much smoother ride. Why not look at retirement the same way – a chance to experience new adventures, second careers, and a possibility of discovering the real, hidden you.

Admittedly, for some, financial and health issues can impact lifestyles severely. But beyond that, we have one last opportunity to act in a play, sing in a choir, write a book, learn a language, lose weight (again), get a dog or cat, sculpt, or grow a garden we can admire or eat. We can save turtles, comfort folks in hospice, or share whatever knowledge we’ve gleaned in our professional life. Grandma Moses, aka Anna Mary Robertson Moses, began painting at 78, after arthritis prevented her from quilting. A New England girl, her works are now exhibited at a Bennington, Vt. museum. A prolific painter, she created 1,500 canvases in three decades. A fan stated, “The unrest and insecurity of the present day make us inclined to enjoy the simple and affirmative outlook of Grandma Moses.”

Creative and rewarding activities do not have to be grand or costly. If you like to grow things, you can create terrariums or join the garden club, allowing you to dirty your hands and beautify the town. Happiness is the same in or out of retirement. It’s all attitude. As bad as things seem, they could be worse. Realize that, and you’ll automatically adopt an attitude of gratefulness, which guarantees a content heart.

James Brown is an ex-football player who walked away from the sport and a $37 million contract a few years ago at the top of his game. He wanted to be a farmer. People called him crazy. He learned to grow things by watching YouTube. He created a farm and supplies food pantries with the harvest. To date that includes 46,000 pounds of sweet potatoes and 10,000 pounds of cucumbers. He considers himself a lucky man.

Retired or not, as we approach this holiday season, let us not be so concerned with the worrisome ways of the world. Instead, grow a garden of gratefulness and reap the pleasant rewards.