[EDITORIAL NOTE: Over there on the right sidebar just below the fold a bit is a badge for RLTV - "TV for our generation" - a campaign I mentioned in a post last week. Clicking it will take you to a page where you can fill in a short form that will help urge the big-time cable companies to carry the new network. Our voices can make a difference. Please take a few moments to do this.]
Not long ago, writing about “Choking on Being Retired,” I said,
“Apparently, in the eyes of the culture, as is believed about elders in general, retirement causes stupidity and hence, retirees couldn’t possibly have anything of interest to say, let alone contribute to society.”
My belief about the culture in that respect hasn’t changed, but I’ve become more interested in who I am now that, according to the Social Security Administration, I’m officially retired and am not mainly identified by how I make a living.
We all wear many labels, the importance of which ebb and flow as we go through life: son or daughter, brother, sister, student, mother, father, citizen, worker, consumer, caregiver, grandparent and, eventually, retired.
In the middle years we mostly identify ourselves by our professions. I am or have been, among other jobs, a cocktail waitress, office worker, radio show producer, journalist, television producer, writer, editor, web producer and now blogger.
But they are only what I do, not who I am and I have been taking on a new sense of myself over the past couple of years. Who am I? is a question I didn’t consider much when I was young. In my earliest years after schooling, I was waiting to become something by which I seemed to mean some combination of wife, mother and a profession I had not yet found.
By the time I was into my forties and a decade divorced, I had removed wife and mother from the list and pretty much settled on my work title as the cultural/social definition of myself. After all, “What do you do?” is one of the first questions we ask of one another when we meet and it mostly suffices to explain ourselves. Unless one has more of a philosophical bent than I, you don’t get much further than that.
But none of this is what I mean. An (admittedly quick) trip around the web on this question results in a whole lot of religion, more new age-y than not, including a fair amount of self-help blather about empowerment and being more than you think you are. Please. I have no patience for this sort of Bandaid for the psyche.
Closer to what I am feeling are Carl Jung’s seven tasks of aging - most particularly, right now, the fifth which is the need to find “a new rooting in the self” bringing together opposites in “the most complete expression of our wholeness.”
Among the little that I believe for certain is that we each are, in the greater scheme of things, unimportant. Should anyone die unexpectedly, from world leader to lowliest peasant, there is someone to take our place and the universe continues unshaken. At the same time, on the micro level of our daily lives, we sometimes make a difference in ways others could not.
Perhaps accepting that is a small part of what Jung means about bringing together opposites, but I’m too practically-oriented to go flying off into theories of individuality versus the cosmos.
To keep myself grounded in what’s really important, I meditate regularly. For a while afterwards, I am more completely myself than at any other time and have no need to wonder who I am. But the feeling is short-lived – an hour maybe – and then I’m back to uncertainty about who I am.
I feel profoundly different at this age and less attached to previous ages than I have been at any other time in my life. There is a sense that a continuum has been broken and I’m in new territory I don’t understand yet.
Or maybe it’s just something I ate…
I’ve relaxed about the term “retired.” I don’t like the cultural baggage associated with it, but it’s a shorthand that in some circumstances moves the agenda forward and I don’t feel that it attaches to me negatively as much as I once did. But I also don’t feel attached, lately, to the obvious other labels - woman, blogger, “international bloviator on aging” and all the rest – but they will have to do while I stir things around in this cauldron of late life, all of which probably has some relationship to making peace with dying one day.
Is anyone else playing around with this stuff?