Am I Happy?

Apparently I am going through some kind of “normal” retirement slump. Every day people ask me with a big smile “so, how is retirement”. People have the oddest idealized idea of retirement. And perhaps it is based in some truth that I will discover later. It is hard to live up to people’s expectations of your retirement happiness.

Lots of huge changes in my life. It has been pointed out to me that it is reasonable to be a little traumatized by this. Single in my sixties after 27 years of marriage would be enough, but the basis for being single is something that destroyed an enormous chunk of my self esteem along with whatever imaginary idea I had about growing old. Then I retired after fifty or so years of working. Those two changes created a huge decrease in my finances. So… trauma. I guess it comes in many forms.

I spent fifty or so years working for others in, for the most part, a reasonably structured environment. I set my alarm and got my coffee every weekday, and some weekends, for all those years. I worked two jobs in college and law school, and one graduated, just worked. In all those years there were very few breaks or real vacations. My life was bounded by my work life and my son’s school schedule.

I woke up on January 4th of 2019 without an alarm and had no obligation to go anywhere. For a few weeks I found myself sleeping a very great deal, waking only when the sun bothered me or the cat wanted food. Six weeks later I left the country for almost four weeks. I returned to a teaching backlog, an intensive rehearsal schedule, my taxes and Passover. I was so busy I couldn’t keep up.

Now I am in self-care/doctor’s appointments world. Just catching up, not to mention getting older. Recently cleared out storage and many cabinets and held a garage sale: caveat – don’t do that. The good of it is that “stuff” is gone. Things that belonged to my father – gone many years now. Things that belonged to my ex husband, that he didn’t want – gone from here more than three years ago. Gone are many things I didn’t want and didn’t use and that others could use. It is a good weight to have gone but the process tends to reopen some wounds that are still healing.

I have a wonderful life. I have a beautiful home. I have a wonderful son and his lovely fiance. I have many loving women in my life. I have the privilege of making music with some brilliant musicians. And every day I wake up speaking my gratitude, thanking the G-d of my understanding, trying to meditate on the good. But I feel oddly off kilter, as if this retirement thing hasn’t quite found it’s footing.

So, in six weeks I am off to Europe for another amazing adventure. I guess routine and finding my feet will have to wait. Ask me in August.

Miracles & Wonder

I stood in the middle of the happy chaos that is Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok just looking around. And I thought: is this real? Did I really do this? By myself? Am I really in Southeast Asia? And yes I was. The wonder of it was just that. Although the place itself revealed many wonders throughout my trip (more on that another time), the miracle was that I had actually done it.

So I dragged my suitcase around until I found the area, thanks to some good instructions, where most tour operators waited for their charges. This, of course with a slightly travel addled brain – roughly 25 hours of travel. Fortunately at this point my suitcase was lighter than it would later be. After three walks up and back the outside sidewalk of the terminal I found an official looking person and said “Bamboo?” (The name of my tour company.) And I was directed to the correct corral where I met a driver and was bused off to the hotel.

The details of hotel and food and group are for another discussion. What matters here is courage. I find that if I think too much, I will not take a risk. I heard about this tour company, looked them up, saw this tour and immediately sent a deposit. Why? You might ask. Not sure, just that it sounded amazing and like something I had never done, would never do. So this trip became my post retirement gift/adventure.

After a ridiculously long time of taking care of other people both personally and professionally, I did not know if I would have the courage to follow through with this plan. But I made a commitment to myself and by God I was going to follow through and just not think too much.

The funny thing is, just after returning home I was offered an opportunity for another trip, life altering in a very different way. And because of this adventure, I said yes without thinking for even a moment. Something I never would have done in a previous phase of life.

The payoff, for not thinking too much, was a life altering trip. A journey of body and spirit that was entirely unexpected in many ways. I was the oldest in my group by a decade or so but mostly found myself “keeping up”. I roomed with a stranger and spent nights in a bunkhouse in the jungle with a group of strangers. I was blessed by Buddhist monks and prayed in their temples. I was of service in many ways and was served up gratitude and smiles all along the way.

In the mountains outside of Changmai they grow wildflowers for commercial purposes, acres and acres of them, and they grow strawberries. Because the strawberries are allowed to ripen fully in the sun on the vine they are almost unbelievably sweet. Something we rarely experience in this country where everything is picked early, stored in cold and shipped long distances. I purchased there a box of natural, pure, unsweetened dried strawberries. They are in my refrigerator still and every so often I take one, close my eyes, and savor the taste of courage.

Nature and Love

February 8, 2019

There is something starkly beautiful about a New England winter. For some reason I find myself here almost every year at this time or at least in some wintery place. But the gray landscape lends itself to introspection. At least here on this mountaintop, I am isolated with just two of my immediate family, my mother and brother. And so, often, I am alone with my thoughts. Since I don’t ski, or snowshoe, it is just me and the fire and watching the snow melt on this strange day.

I will hardly be the first person to say that your family is who they are and sometimes you love them in spite of yourself and in spite of themselves. I was told recently to remember that there is family you choose and family you don’t choose. And you love them differently. And sometimes, there is the family that chooses you.

Over time, people have come into my life that I love very much. I did not know that I could love as much as I do. I did not know how much I would value the love and friendship of the women in my life. And I did not know how much I would value and be touched by the people I have known the longest and who I see the least .

When I was young, all I understood of love was sex and marriage. As an aside, marriage has not worked out well for me. But marriage gave me my son, from whom I have learned a very different kind of love; The kind for which you would throw yourself in front of a moving train.

It is always interesting to me the extent to which nature, the weather, the scenery affects my mood and feelings. Sometimes it affects my optimism. Sometimes it is all about memory. When I come to this place it is full of memories of people, events and love past. And it is full of the present – thoughtful, joyful, difficult.

It has taken these years of living to begin to understand the nature of love for me. And it is all of the above, thoughtful, joyful, difficult, memorable. How happy I am that I have begun to understand the difference between need, want and love.

HELP~?

So being laid up as I have been is a different kind of experience.  This is when being single gets interesting.  I am a generally independent sort and for the last ten days I have been mostly helpless as a result of surgery on my feet.  Now we don’t think about our feet all that much, until the can’t be used!  And if I am up too much they definitely let me know.

As a result of this, I have been forced to ask for more help than I am really comfortable with.  And it has forced me to think about why we are so resistant to asking for help.  Do we think we aren’t worth it?  Or that people secretly don’t like you and just won’t show up?  It is odd.  Giving help comes completely naturally, it is just what we are supposed to do.  Getting help, what an emotional struggle.

I have been so blessed with friends who did show up.  Dinner has arrived at my house every day for eight days.  Take out filled in the rest.  I have discovered Grub Hub, but that is a story for another day.  People have taken out my trash, gone to the store, called every day, driven me to the doctor and sat in the house while I took my first shower.  My son has shown up every day since he came back to town, just to see if I need anything.  He is cleaning the pool and other sundry tasks.  All the minutiae of everyday life that you need to be on your feet for.  I thought I was super prepared, hah! That’s a laugh.

And so, having to learn to accept help with grace and gratitude, that is the lesson. I believe there is a lesson in every experience, we just don’t always know what it is.  When my father had dementia and lived with us, the lesson was patience (I have had a few lessons on that…).  When my marriage ended, the lesson was that I am quite enough all by myself.  That prepared me a bit for this next lesson which is that I am not always enough with out some dependence on people who love and care about me, whether I believe I am worthy or not.  I am not sure how gracefully I have managed this but I know this – I am overwhelmed with gratitude!

Academy of What?

 

It is amazing what my mind can do when left unsupervised.  Some of the things I think should and will remain unspoken, or at least unwritten.  But some random thoughts deserve to be aired, or at least it seems so to me.

I was driving down the road and saw a large sign on a building.  It was one of those moments when you just see the sign in passing out of the corner of your eye because of course you are watching the road. And what I saw, or what my brain thought it saw was: Academy of Marital Arts. I’m sure you can figure out what it actually said.

Now imagine what an academy of marital arts might be.  Listening lessons on one floor, sex on another, how to find common interests in one classroom, compromise in another.  The possibilities are pretty numerous.  And speaking as someone who has ended less than successful marriages, I think such an academy could be very useful.

In fact, I suspect that academies of marital arts might better equip our young for the future. Now understand that I have great respect for academies of martial arts and I completely understand the values they teach; discipline, respect, physical health and so on. But there are many places in our culture that teach, or purport to teach, these or similar values; little league, Boy Scouts, pop warner to name a few.

But just think, did your parents tell you how to be married? Mine surely didn’t.  My father was never married more than, I think, about 6 or 7 years; twice. My mother was able to sustain a little more longevity but has been married four times.  And, sad to say, I am coming up on her fast. But what matters is this: did anyone ever tell you to consider your lover’s needs when enumerating your own, did anyone ever articulate what day to day compromise really looks like, or true and genuine communication?  For most of us, no.

I grant that there are those of you that had wonderful parental or grand parental role models for how to be married. But even for those of you that lucky, it is likely that the world and cultural norms and expectations have shifted so significantly that those models quickly become passé. An educational institution could keep up, maybe.  So despite the usefulness of martial arts, I will continue to hope that somewhere there is an academy of martial arts.