In 1969 Richie Havens sang the song ‘Freedom’ at Woodstock. The lyrics, which as of late will not stop playing in my head, “Freedom, freedom, freedom, sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from my home” have a different meaning for me than they did when I was 17. Back then, in fact, I don’t think I really thought much about the lyrics. It was the blues feeling of the tune more than the lyrics, which attracted me to Havens’ song. And, after all, it was sung at the crazy, crazy song fest, love-in of Woodstock. Today, however, it’s how I feel about the lyrics, which has them spinning over and over again around my brain. With my mother’s passing in 2008, I truly am a motherless child. And, the years, the travels, the distances, the sheer experience of life itself, have taken me a long way from my home. Shoot! I’m not even remotely like my 17-year-old self. That person is gone. But, with the luxury of retirement, I am free after all those years.
Between the time when we reach adulthood to the time when we reach retirement, we spend our lives dancing as fast as we can to keep up with career plans and demands, family responsibilities, community involvement and a host of other concerns like how to afford retirement. Before reaching adulthood, we spent our youth with everything we learned, did or perhaps, even thought, being orchestrated by parents, teachers, church leaders, scout leaders, coaches, maybe even older siblings or other relatives and, of course, there were our friends. Retirement is a sort of crossing the finish line where we have gobs and gobs of time to ourselves, free time to do whatever we want, whenever we want. There are no bosses breathing down our necks all day making sure we are not wasting company time and producing results with our efforts. The kids are grown and, hopefully, out of house. Our spouse or significant other may also be retired and have their agenda of activities or they may still be running on the treadmill of work. At last, we are free.
But, therein lies the catch. At first, in retirement, we may feel like a motherless child who can run wild in the streets. We can sleep late, play golf or bridge or whatever, party with our friends late into the night. Hop into our RV or travel the globe. In our society we have been conditioned to think of retirement as a perpetual vacation where we’re going to enjoy endless relaxation and fun. I remember my mother’s trepidation about my father’s impending retirement. Her fears began when they received one call too many relaying the news of yet another retired male friend dying of a heart attack on the golf course. Those were the days when retirement was a time to party hardy because our life spans were much shorter. It made sense to act like every day was Saturday. However, with present day longevity, the idea of spending 20 or 30 years playing every day is no longer desirable. As human beings we have an innate need to strive onward and upward toward something meaningful. The retirement dream of our parents is not a valid dream for us. In fact, 20 or 30 years of doing the same ol’, same ol’ can become a downright nightmare.
Retirement is the one time in life when we have real control over our time and what we do with it. Yet, many of us squander that freedom by clinging to the retirement model of our grandparents’ and parents’ generations. Freedom, in and of itself, is a responsibility. One way to take responsibility for your freedom is to go home again. Even though you are probably, as I am, a different person than you were as a young adult, revisiting that person may hold the keys to what you really, really want to do with your retirement freedom. Even though, in the words of Richie Havens, I was a long way from my home, I went back to my high school years, mentally that is, and thought about what I had wanted to do with my life then. I was the copy editor on my high school newspaper and received an award from Temple University for outstanding high school journalism. Hard to believe now, considering how I don’t always know where to place a comma or start a new paragraph. But, my point is, I always wanted to be a writer but I let life and paying the bills get in the way. Being a writer still resonated with my current self so even though I was a long way from home, I retrieved that dream and made it happen on these pages. By going home again, you may find the answer to what you want to do to jazz up your retirement freedom. But, however you approach it, whatever you decide to do, don’t squander it like a motherless child just whiling away the days, all the days, each and every one of your days, with mundane busyness.