LIKE A MOTHERLESS CHILD

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.

11 comments on “LIKE A MOTHERLESS CHILD

  1. Your post speaks to me. I do see many of my retired neighbors treating every moment like they are obligated to play. It’s a never ending round of golf, drinks dinner and going on vacation (as if they were not on a vacation already). After teaching art in a public school for many years, I have reconnected with working in my new studio. I may not have made it into a gallery in New York or into a museum, but I am loving the process of creating.

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  2. Thanks once again for a blog that really does make me think about how I want to spend my retirement days. I think i need a bit of a shake up as I do seem to spend too much time with “mundane busyness” lately.

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  3. Wow! I am currently in this space- trying to go back to find my first self. I felt (feel) lost too. But I am discovering my old loves again, art, dance, exploring, singing. Thank you for giving me a path to follow and making it okay to go back.

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  4. Great post. I have been thinking about what to do after I stop working (560 days. But who is counting?). Riding my bike is high on the list. My retirement gift to myself is to bicycling from San Diego to St Augustine. Beyond that I do not know. BTW, WLIR played Richie Havens. Here Comes The Sun every morning when I was in college on Long Island.

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  5. Your tone & voice are a great fit with the song….but remember there are many songs and not everyone retires at 62 to contemplate bike riding, baking or whatever….I still have friends who are working at 75….because they must.

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    • Paulette, Thanks for the alternative perspective. I haven’t forgotten there are many, many people who cannot or will not retire at 62 and some who will still be working as they age because they must. But, that’s a different blog. As the tagline on my blog reads it’s about my “perspective, thoughts and adventures in retirement”. So, retirement is the perspective from which I write.

      Warm regards,
      Kathy

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  6. Another thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I have not been experiencing such a big shift from work to play with my own retirement, but I think that may be a distinctive aspect of the academic experience. Like many academics, I’ve only left behind parts of my work — teaching and administrative work — but I’m still a sociologist, a thinker, and a writer. The transition for me is about how I want to use those skills and what else I want to add into the mix. The other feature of academic work that creates more continuity is the institution of the sabbatical — a period of time every seven years when you take a break from teaching to focus on other types of intellectual work. Many academics experience their last sabbaticals as a kind of dress rehearsal for retirement.

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  7. Great post. Sometimes I feel guilty or bad because I’m not flying to Arizona or Palm Springs to escape the Canadian winter like so many seem to do. I find great contentment in simply living here at home and your post is a good reminder that I don’t need to feel guilty about not wanting to play all the time. I’d much rather be writing and honing my photography skills!

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    • Yes, you are right on. Having close relationships is extremely important to aging dynamically. We’ve known for a long time relationships support emotional health, preventing loneliness and depression as we age but, now, current neurological research using MRI technology has shown that relationships keep our neural pathways open and our brains sharp. We need other people in our lives.

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