It’s been three years since I “retired” from work and I still recall a conversation I had with a woman I’d met who at that time was nearing 70. “Be careful,” she warned. “You’ll find yourself busier in retirement than you ever were when you were working.” Of course, I couldn’t understand what she meant. For the last 40-plus years, all I knew was hard work and long hours at jobs that demanded either strong muscles or nerves of steel. Any remaining time and energy was devoted to maintaining a home and raising my family. I’m sure this is a story shared by many. But today, lo, I have discovered this woman was a sage!
I have been cautious not to over-commit to the many requests to “volunteer”. Lots of retirees’ calendars look as booked as any full-time employed American. Their warnings (or complaints) are definitely worth considering. Don’t get me wrong. I truly enjoy the camaraderie and fun that volunteering a few hours a week at the Cook Hospital Auxiliary Thrift Shop brings me. But lately, I have even had trouble finding time for that!
Time, or lack of it, has become an issue for me lately. I’m going through a period when there is much more to do than adequate time to do it. And the days just seem to speed by! I used to think that was just part of getting older but recently, my son was complaining of his life “just rushing by”. His “speeding problem” was no longer something that happened when he was behind the wheel. “What?” I thought. “Thirty-four is the time of life to wander, wonder, drift, discover, hang with friends, or your children, and explore life together!” At least that’s how I remember it.
Children? Mine are cruising through their thirties, both busy with their jobs and keeping their own homes. No problems there. My grandson gets “first dibs” for any of my free time. After all, at thirteen, he’s ripe for some grandmotherly love and wisdom. He’s also one of the most fun people I know to have around. Then there are friends, most of whom are near my age, traversing this period of life that once promised more freedom, but, only if you had your health. I can’t tell you how many times I heard elders asserting that if you had your health, you had everything. The converse was also true. If you didn’t, a lot of other things mattered a whole lot less or just didn’t matter at all. At 66, I and my cohorts are discovering just how right they were.
So far, I’ve been lucky. My occasional health issues have all been fixable. You know what they say, “Thank God for modern medicine!” But many other folks I know have not been so fortunate. Their health problems have proven more complicated and challenging, and some have threatened their very survival. In these past three years, I’ve seen how the direction and focus of our lives can change in an instant. It’s informed me that we need to be available for each other in ways we may not have anticipated, assisting and supporting in whatever ways can. We may be called to help ease the stress of healing or caregiving. I once read, “The greatest gift we can offer someone is the gift of our time.” Hmmm. This brings up that persistent struggle with “needing more time.”
If you’ve read the work of great philosophers and spiritual teachers, you’ve probably come across wisdom surrounding the process of discernment, defined as keen insight and good judgment applied to the most important concerns of life. Some believed that discernment was key to a happy life especially when we developed our ability to discern in matters that were of utmost importance to us. These wise beings were telling us that discernment is a skill that improves with practice. It reminds me of the bumper sticker which reads, “Happiness is not a destination. It is a way of life.” I think I’m beginning to get it.
So, here I am, at my computer, working hard to fulfill a commitment — to produce a piece of writing that will be worthy of the time it takes for you to read it. I love this assignment even though it isn’t something that comes easy. The opportunity to write for others is a privilege. It’s “required time”, a break in my busy world of “doing”, to slow down and ask the question, “What matters to me, right now, in this moment, that I want to share with others in a way that evokes, or provokes, serious thought?” The time devoted to this valued practice competes sharply with other important items on my “To Do” list.
Yes, I could can those green beans and beets tomorrow. And that pile of firewood that needs to get stacked in the shed? That’ll get done — eventually. But there are all those people waiting for me to call them back!. They’re important, too. My dear friend housebound from a broken foot while also mourning the loss of her dog. A fellow traveler to Zambia in 2016 who wants to share news about the community we visited. And my brother turned fifty this week. He certainly deserves a phone call. The list will continue to go on and on because I will cross out one item only to add another until I’m no longer able to make lists. I guess this is where discernment comes in, a constant process of prioritizing and reprioritizing to create a meaningful life.
So, here’s my morning prayer, May the benevolent forces that be continue to inspire me to offer the “gift of my time”. May they grant me the wisdom to discern what matters most and the willingness to act when I’m needed. Oh, and since I’m asking, is there any way you could tack a few more hours on my day — just until I get caught up?”