27 Jul 2017
The large no-frills wall calendar facing me looked the same at first glance. Thirty identical, two inch square boxes. Obligatory events were scribbled in different ink colors as reminders: a grandchild’s second birthday party, a dental appointment, a furniture delivery. Just a few plain white squares remained empty.
But this calendar was different. The last seven days in June marked the last days of a 45-year career as a full-time nurse. Twenty one boxes sported defiant red diagonal slashes: bold, emphatic lines that said “DONE, OVER, COMPLETE!” The last day in June was simply circled in red. That red circle had faced an army of sword-like slashes and defeated them. Now victorious, I faced the next challenge: retirement. The retirement plan was a simple triad that considered finances, time management, and some short and long term goals. Simple!
I enjoyed thinking of the similarities between retirement and maternity leave all those decades ago. After all, in both scenarios, friends, family and co-workers congratulated and hugged me. They gave me gifts and wished me future success. But then I remembered my 30-year-old self, full of energy and the promise of endless years ahead to take chances, shift gears and recover from mistakes. No, this was different. Only slightly defeated, I focused on that triad.
Finances first, I guessed. That was concrete and easy. I’d already missed the 401K boat, a mistake there was no time to rectify. I hadn’t saved enough and hadn’t been left a large inheritance. I did have Social Security, a New York State pension, and an optimists view of working part time until I died. So much for finances, I thought, moving on to time management and goals.
Time management included a caveat now. What was a long range plan at my 60 plus years? Five, 10, 20 years? It seemed smart to shrink back to short-term time management for now. I would just pen in the weeks and months ahead with days I’d long dreamed of: days to read, write, paint, play with grandchildren, walk the dog or simply do nothing all day. But even that left me with a crisis of identity. Did days spent like that mean I was still a nurse, still productive and contributing to the world? The “timing” part of the plan felt elusive.
I knew for sure that a decision to choose June on the retirement calendar WAS a great decision. The long sunny days and endless displays of color and life are helpful. There is a symbiosis to it. You and the world are alive and there is an endlessness to the day. And so, with that mindset, I returned to being in a moment rather than anything more.
I took a deep breath and took out my trusty road bike, Celeste. ( Yes, my bike has a name.) I mounted the bike easily, congratulating myself for the easy swing of my right leg over the crossbar. I clipped in and marveled at myself for the strong first pedal strokes and perfect balance. Bolstered, I took the first, second, and all the hills with exhausted confidence in my ability to reach the top. Soon, the rhythmic, constant pumping of my legs and matched breathing, overtook conscious thought and stripped my ability to plan or plot. I was in the moment.
The periwinkle cornflowers dotting the roadside matched the sky. A chipmunk wearing racing stripes darted in front of me. “Okay, you win,” I thought, You are faster and younger and we are sharing the road. It’s fine. Pine needles lined the edges of the road. They smelled sweet and I remembered once scooping them up into a sweatshirt sleeve to form a pillow on a long-ago picnic. I pedaled along the perimeter of the reservoir.
An Egret landed on a huge white rock at the waters edge – its graceful descent remarkable. It leaned left and hovered a second before claiming the smooth surface as a good place to rest. I slowed and observed the bird, feeling happy. It all seemed simple. I was ready to resume the ride and the remaining day.
The furthest thought from my mind was a need to ever put a deliberate red line through another day. I had discovered the missing part of the plan the moment I hopped on that bike.