The first few months of Wally Ginder Wethe’s retirement from the U.S. Marine Corps were painful. He’d sleep in mornings, move to the sofa in his pajamas to sit and read, fall asleep there, and eventually wander around the house like a lost soul. If I tried to help by suggesting some task around the house or yard he’d say, “I didn’t get out of the Marines just to make you my commanding officer!”
It was hard on me too. That old saying, “I married him for better or for worse, but NOT for lunch!” rang true after the first few days. I was reminded of how pleasant it had been to see him all clean-shaven, breakfasted, and looking snappy in his bright-buttoned uniform and polished shoes as he left the house for a day of flying a fighter plane or "flying a desk." Then I could do my own thing at my own pace and happily be my own boss. I had no more college homework, no outside job where I had to please someone else, and if I got bored studying recipe books or shopping for groceries or house-cleaning I could go over to visit Liz, a friend and another officer’s wife, and play with her baby. A year and a half later I had my own baby, two years later another, and six years after that our third and last child. I had plenty to do. Later I kept busy in my own ways, but with my husband at home all day? That changed the picture.
Not long after his retirement Wally G. got another job working for his church in various capacities. That was satisfying to him and he kept at it until the day he died. Proving, I’d say, that there’s little in the word “retirement” to recommend it as a satisfying state of living. I looked up the word in my dictionary and found most of the definitions to be negative, like "loneliness, reclusiveness, aloofness, apartness, separateness, solitariness, isolation, inactivity." Sandwiched in with these were a few words that spoke positively such as privacy, tranquility, serenity, and inactivity. I included that last word in the positive sense too because it turns me off to read about seniors who attempt to counter their age by doing things like sky-diving, long-distance running, motorcycling, bicycling through traffic, playing strenuous tennis games, mountain-climbing and other youthful pursuits. Why can’t they just do normal things, leave youth to the young and grow old gracefully?
Inactivity, I’m finding, can be an art. When I sit and look around my little creekside patio, listen to the waterfall, the birds, watch the sunlight glint amidst the trees and send dancing reflections of the creek up the neighborhood walls, I find a kind of bliss that silences the old work ethic nags. I say to them, “Enough! Been there. Done that.”
Sometimes I wonder what I could have done with my life to make more of a mark in the world. I haven’t been too self-indulgent and I’ve spent ample time looking for real answers to life, occasionally sharing my “finds” with a listening ear. I’ve pursued some talents and intend to do more of that in the near future. I’ve been helpful to my friends and family whenever I can, and I treat life as an open school, myself a willing student if not an over-achiever.
When I need to fill out a form and they ask my occupation I always have to think about that a minute before I answer “retired.” That word seems deceptive to me. Now if I could re-define “retired” to mean the state of working and playing on my own terms at my own pace, in other words a kind of do-what-I-want-when-I-want-at-the-pace-I-choose, then that’s my idea of an honest "retired" answer. Could there be another term for it? How about this;
I wonder when I’ll get my next chance to write that on some form. It might make someone smile. It works for me.