Sunday, January 31, 2016

Opening The Door Marked '65'

There's a joke I've heard in various versions over the years, the gist of it being that the way to reach any age is by waking up alive on the date in question. Today my human body has journeyed around the sun for a total of sixty-five years.

I remember viewing sixty-five as both a destination and the start of old age, the decline of life. It was a destination, back when I was in my twenties and thirties, because that was the enforced age of retirement. It still is, in many industries, though as more and more folks cannot afford to stop working, REAL retirement might not happen until age seventy or maybe not until death descends.

When my parents reached their sixties, they seemed to count the days to my dad's retirement. His final few years on the job were challenging. Management wanted young blood and curtailed his ability to be the experienced, wise adjunct to the department -- a benefit not a detriment. Nowadays, more companies do understand the benefits of experience, but not then. Or so it seemed. They tried to convince him to take early retirement and eventually he did leave earlier than originally planned. The release from stress was worth it, I think.

Then came the adjustments. For my mom, adjustments to a routine that counted on personal free time and not having anyone underfoot. But soon they were scheduling adventures. They went golfing, took trips to visit all four children who now lived far from home. My sister and her son had returned home and became their built-in house sitter while they traveled. Free at last to spread their wings and relax.

My perceptions about age sixty-five shifted. It still seemed "old" but also held the promise of experiencing the world without attachments to a daily job, competition for promotions and the complications of children.

Now I've opened the door marked "65" and, no surprise, the room on the other side appears the same as the room I'm leaving.

I've been semi-retired for several years. When my daughter was born, I became a stay-at-home mom. I worked part-time after both children were in school and then the marriage relationship came undone. Complications related to our son, mostly, left me unable to assume a full-time job and after so many years home with family, my resume was sorely lacking in anything that would interest employers in fields that once suited my college education.

When separation led to divorce, I believed the stories I told myself about older folks (older here being anything over fifty) not welcomed in the marketplace. AND, ten years ago, that was reality compared to changes since that time. These days there are too many baby boomers needing to find new work or to continue working. They've elicited changes, convinced businesses that their skills and stability made them desirable employees.

But I decided it was time to seek out what I'd never been able to pursue earlier in my life -- creative expression, particularly writing. I had considered becoming a technical writer before my children were born and contemplated that as a course to follow after the divorce. I decided instead to pursue new directions, to dive into fiction stories, poetry and essay composition.

Now I'm sixty-five and still figuring out who I want to be when I grow up. Cliché but fitting. I don't see my road as one headed for a tangled, dangerous forest. I see an open road, blue skies, vast ranges of meadows, mountains, valleys, fun rivers and many, many people and experiences waiting for me to explore.

And that's the designation I give to this stage of my life: Explorer.