How is retirement going? It’s a question I’m often asked these days. Since I’m well into my 80thyear I don’t think about it that much.
Retirement was very much on my mind in my 60’s as I neared the end of my institutional employment. I knew it was coming before age 60 when like everyone else at 55 I received an invitation to join AARP, about the time gerontologists suggest we join the ranks of the elderly.
Then in my early 70’s I woke up one morning and found myself unemployed without a pay check, no corporate credit card, dependent upon Social Security and Medicare. And the familiar work-related phone calls ceased.
I’ve adjusted to all that. This life without a boss and without having to be a boss seems like the way it should be right now. It’s a life of freedom, challenge and yes, hope for the future.
I’ve learned much about this time of life from the late Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, (1924-2014) rereading his 1995 book ‘From Age-ing to Sage-ing: A Profound New Vision of Growing Older.’
His life’s work was to change the way we think about aging, and the way we behave as “elders” – a term he prefers to “the elderly.” An elder for him is ‘a person who is still growing, still a learner, still with potential, still in pursuit of happiness, joy and pleasure.’
He reminded us that age alone does not make one a wise elder. ‘People don’t automatically become sages,’he wrote, ‘simply by living to a great age.’ We become wise by undertaking the inner work of what he calls ‘spiritual eldering.’
He admits that it is not easy given how we unconsciously internalize the negative images of aging in our youth-oriented society. He warns that ‘ageism’ is as degrading as sexism and racism. The inevitability of life’s end can be overwhelming.
I’ve found that the work of ‘spiritual eldering’has given me the tools needed to face my own mortality. It’s not for the faint of heart.
During my 80thyear I’ve undergone chemo treatment for lymphoma. Thankfully it is now in remission. Which makes me a cancer survivor twice over having survived prostate cancer earlier in life.
This inner work requires commitment. As Rabbi Zalman wrote, it’s a process during which, ‘our identity comes not from what we do, but from who we are.’ Elders learn that they no longer need to rush around to prove their self-worth by performance in the work world.
From this new identity, moving from “age-ing to sage-ing,” elders continue learning and leading by giving back, or as some now describe it – giving forward, particularly through mentoring younger people and engaging in worthwhile projects that will outlive us.
That’s a good thing!