Many years ago, I spent some time with a man whose talents and accomplishments were many. Michael was erudite, well traveled and had a vast knowledge of literature and music (I think he and Peter Tibbles would enjoy one another).
He was a magnificent cook, having once worked as a professional chef for one of the world's wealthiest men, but he did not do desserts. He told me that he was saving pastry cooking (which is as much science as art) to learn in his old age when he would also do the work necessary to finally understand the the music of Wagner.
Although that little conversation was had between us mostly in passing, I never forgot it. When it came to mind over the years, I would take a stab at trying to plan how I would spend my own old age. Nothing came to me.
Several times I have told the story here of how and why, 17 years ago, I started researching aging. I was still working in 2003, when I launched this blog as a place to write down what I was learning and try to make some sense of it all. And here I am, a decade later, still doing it.
The longer I do it, the more complex and compelling the subject becomes and what I had not counted on ten years ago is that it would change me from being merely a reporter of aging issues into an advocate for elders' well being.
That has led to participation in some local boards that work to better and enrich the lives of the aged in my community and together these things have become as much a full time job as any I was paid to do over more than 45 years in the workforce.
So unlike Michael who made a thoughtful and deliberate decision about what specific things he wanted to do with his late years, I fell into mine.
In the beginning, I never thought “researching old age” would take nearly 20 years and that even then I would still be nowhere near done. Nor, if you had asked back then, would I have believed I would still care about it today.
Now and then, when I get frustrated with some of the consequences of the blog or just tired of the hours it takes to do this reasonably well, I try to imagine my life without Time Goes By and I don't like what I see: vast amounts of time with no purpose to them.
I'm pretty sure I would find other ways to fill the hours, days, months, years and that some of it would interest me although probably not with the passion I feel for what I am doing now. But maybe that's not so. I am capable of great amounts of work (certain kinds) but also of equally great sloth for long, long periods.
Time Goes By and The Elder Storytelling Place give me purpose in retirement. Even if only a handful of people read these blogs (which was true for many months when I began), it would provide the same purpose for it is in trying to write clearly what I have learned that I am able to understand it myself.
(British novelist and essayist E.M. Forster once said, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” which proves true for me every day.)
From what I gather in various media about retirement, many people carefully plan what they intend to do with their time after their careers end. For me, even with the recurrent memory of my conversation with Michael, I didn't plan to retire. In fact, it was a shock, after a layoff, that no one wanted or was willing to hire a 63-year old.
Nowadays, 10 years after the launch of TGB, I am grateful I had the foresight to start it before I really needed it. Okay, that's a lie – I didn't start it to have something to do in retirement; it just turned out that way and sometimes I wonder what would have become of me by now without it.
UPDATE: Geez - after the first couple of comments, I think I need to say that I am surely not looking for blessings and thanks (what a bore). I was hoping some of you would talk about your experiences or thoughts about purpose in retirement.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Sharon Ostrow: Stream of Consciousness