Changing Direction

My friend texted me as I waited at the light to turn left towards the highway – the quickest route to the community garden. She’d just watered my plot. We do that for each other sometimes. Now what? The light changed and I turned right. I’d take care of different errands instead. But what? I had enough to eat at home, plenty of toothpaste, whatever. There was nothing I really needed and nothing, now that the garden was taken care of, that needed me. A simple text exchange launched me into an existential crisis.

This summer most of my weekends have been busy and more social than the norm for me, with lots of meeting friends and an otherwise full to-do list. This Saturday morning the only pressing thing was watering the garden and now that was done. There’s been a crazy drought this summer and I hadn’t been up there since early in the week. I could have gone there anyway to pick a tomato or two, pull a weed, maybe catch my pal while she was still there. And I actually have two plots and only one is right by my friend’s – the other one is in the lower garden area. I could have and maybe I should have, gone and watered that one. But I didn’t – I abandoned my plan and turned in the opposite direction. And promptly felt lost.

The ‘lower’ garden

I continued driving right past the farmer’s market where I had been thinking of going although I didn’t really need to because I have enough food. What was the point? What was the point — of anything and of any of us? Of life? What are we all doing here on this planet? For at least a minute, I felt this question profoundly in my body. Here I am busily moving about the world taking care of tasks, my job, different roles to different people. What for? Then I remembered that my gas tank was very low. Phew! A distraction that made sense – a need. I turned right at the next intersection and drove to the cheapest but best gas I could get. It was almost $50 to fill my tank and yes that’s painful but I used to live in countries where fuel has been pricey for a long time so I’ve been trying to get over it and drive less. Shame on us for not being more adaptable and innovative and making the changes necessary for our poor thirsty or drowning earth. (depending where you live)

Back to my crisis. Saturday-morning-temporary-insanity aside, I really am at a crossroads in my life. For years my purpose felt clear – based on being needed. Now I live alone, my daughter and Rufus are happily living life on the West coast and while we talk daily, she doesn’t need me. I know my dearest and beloved daughter – I hear you in my head scolding – ‘yes I do need you’! But you don’t and that makes me happy. You are creating your own life, taking care of yourself and our sweet pup and I’m proud and know that is how it should be.

A morning harvest

I now have a new freedom and can start figuring out what this new, old-me wants to do with the rest of my life. I confess to feeling slightly unmoored anticipating the next thing but I don’t hate it. Life now is fascinating and exciting and terrifying, all at once. I feel on the brink of changes. But of what? How? Where? Why? These are the questions I have ideas about but no answers. For now, I continue to plod on with the daily routine of the dutiful worker, doing some iteration of what sustained my little family and this little house for the last 25 years. Am I passionate about it? Never. It’s a job. I love books. I don’t love sales but I am conscientious and interested in other people so that’s translated easily enough. And I am loathe to give up the regular paycheck not to mention health insurance. But it’s never been who I am and now that it’s only me that needs supporting, I have been trying to figure out how much do I need? When can I stop? Not knowing how long I have on this planet makes calculations challenging. But if I knew, I’d claim my time back and have every day be like a Saturday when no one but me owns my hours.

On this past Saturday, I think I had a taste of what’s to come – when I have figured enough out and am brave enough to take the leap. I will have those existential questions for longer than a drive in the car: who am I? That’s kind of the point, though, right? I want to think about that question. I have always likened anticipated life changes to changing the gears on a bicycle. You have to work up to the right gear and there’s a certain amount of grinding until you get to the place where it’s comfortable to pedal. (at least on my old bike!) That’s where I am. I don’t know what’s at the top nor the bottom of the hill so I’m staying alert and ready for anything.

Any advice from my retired readers?

15 thoughts on “Changing Direction”

  1. Beautiful reflection! No advice. Like you, I’m living in the question. Feels to me like you are bicycling at the right speed for this moment.

  2. I’m not retired so I can’t comment on that but I can say that being passionate about your work is really overrated and can break your heart in the end. Having a job you like, supports you/provides you with insurance etc. that you feel good about is really where it’s at. Also, being around people who also love books is neat!

  3. Yes – all true. Now I work from home to boot, so nothing much to complain about! How is YOUR job working out?

  4. “No one but me owns my hours”, this quote right here! So much has happened in the last few years where we all want our hours back! Although I’m no where near retirement I do wish you the best as you determine the best path to take on this journey we call life.

  5. I, too, very much like the statement “living in the question”. I feel very blessed to be kind of semi-retired….I “should” all over myself almost daily…..the things available to me that friends encourage me to do (like writing, artwork….the creative stuff I’m not self-confident enough to push myself into). The time I do have is spent doing things I love….care of my animals and others weekly at the shelter, some dog walking, cooking, a lot of bike riding, lots of reading and as much beach time as I’m allowed. And I wonder, like you, what for? Thank heavens for beautiful friends like you to share with….and I thank YOU for sharing. xo

  6. Since retirement, my days are so full and yet, when people ask, “So, what have you been doing?” it’s sometimes hard to say. Just being able to move at one’s own pace is such a joyful novelty. To wake when my body says it’s time instead of to an alarm. To go to bed when I reach a stopping point in my book instead of the hour. To be free for friends, grandkids, writing, travel, causes, spontaneity! Age, experience, and Covid have underscored your point about not knowing how much time we have left and giving over so many hours to a job, to a schedule…well, I don’t miss that for a second, much as I miss my beloved colleagues. Faith in the unfolding has always been my mantra, and that’s where you are… waiting for the unfolding to help guide you. You have courage and an adventurous spirit and so many interests. The next phase will call to you and I can’t wait to hear what it is! XXOO

  7. This post landed straight in my throat. As a divorced woman in my late 60’s I too wonder what is next? Sometime scared, sometimes full of vitality about the whole thing, other times so blue. So many feelings buzzing around in this monkey brain. Thank you for this brave post.

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