After 40 years as a wage slave, I retired last September. I quit as soon as I could. As soon as I was confident that I would have a dollar left at 92. For me, work always felt wrong, like putting on someone else’s clothes every day. Trying to be that person; trying to hide how I felt about the corporate machine I found myself in. Maybe in another profession I would have felt differently. But I stuck with the career I chose – or which chose me – for as long as I had to, and not a moment longer.
Friends and coworkers warned me that it might be rough at first. That I wouldn’t know what to do with the empty hours and empty days. That I would miss “having a place to go each morning.” That life would become meaningless without someone telling me what to do with my time.
That only happens to people who loved their jobs. Poor sods! Retirement was my reward, my atheistic afterlife.
I celebrated by spending October in the country – in a barn, in the Fingerlakes area. Rustic, but comfortable. A living space in what used to be the hay loft. The place had been neglected for years and needed work. I spent my days clearing brush, painting the weathered siding, making small improvements inside. Trapping mice. Watching the colors change on the hillside above the pond.
That lasted a glorious three days. Then I came down with Lyme disease, which put a damper on my idyllic retreat. My meniere’s got worse, too. I was a mess. I moved back to town in November and read Buddhism between doses of doxycycline and meclizine. My daughter visited and made me eat vegetables. I slept a lot. The holidays came and went in a blur. I gazed into the abyss and it gazed into me.
I read a lot while I convalesced, and at some point stumbled onto Schopenhauer. I fell for his philosophical pessimism and the way he embraced Eastern thought. But mostly, it was his hair. I think mine might get that way, if I stop cutting it. I can do that now. That’s part of the reward. To acknowledge the absurd; to look ridiculous. I should have been a pair of ragged claws, scuttling across the floors of silent seas. But it’s not too late!
I will return to the barn and wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled and my hair like Schopenhauer’s. And when I can’t pack any more dirt under my nails, I’ll head into the village and drink cheap beer at the Middletown Tavern and discuss deer ticks and knotweed with guys in John Deere hats.
It’s taken me 63 years to get here. If I live long enough, it will have been worth it.