Yesterday I was at the library when I ran into a man I had gotten to know because he had been a client at the business where I used to work. The business closed down back in November and I was laid off so I had not seen this fellow since then.
He smiled when he saw me and came over to shake my hand, “Long time no see. How ya doin’?”
“I’m doing fine. And you?”
“You know me; busy, busy, busy. So where are you working now?”
“Oh, I’m still unemployed.”
The expression on the man’s face drastically changed to one of alarm, “Oh my, I’m so sorry to hear that. Well, hang in there man. I know it’s tough around here right now but don’t give up. I hope you can find a job soon.”
I wanted to say, “Gosh, I hope not!” but the man turned and walked away before I could say anything.
The encounter confused me and got me thinking. Why is not having a job such a sad thing? And more importantly, why did I refer to myself as unemployed?
After leaving the library I walked south on Main Street. After a couple of blocks I ran into someone else who I had not seen since I was last working. It was a woman I had always enjoyed talking with.
She was walking toward me and we both stopped walking as we met. She smiled, “Well, hello there! It sure is good to see you. I’ve been wondering about you. I miss our little talks. So what are you doing now? Where are you working now?”
With the library encounter fresh on my mind I decided to change my response to what was essentially the same question. With a big smile I replied, “Well, I’m not working anywhere. I am now retired.”
Her face lit up with excitement, “Oh, that’s so wonderful! I am so happy for you! Good for you. I bet you’re loving it.”
We stood there on the sidewalk talking for about twenty minutes. After we went our separate ways I walked home and I could not stop thinking about the two markedly different reactions from the two people I encountered to the news that I did not have a job. It was all because of the word I used to describe my situation. People seem to react quite differently to the words, unemployed, and, retired.
In addition to thinking about how other people react to those words and what that says about our culture, I also started thinking about my own reactions to saying those words.
When I was a kid I used to fantasize about being old — not old as in being an adult but old as in being elderly. I thought it would be so cool to be elderly. You didn’t have to work or have a job, you could do whatever the heck you wanted, you never have to think the word, career, and you didn’t have to put up with anyone’s BS. I was already looking forward to retirement while I was still in junior high school before I ever even had my first job.
I admired elderly retired people, especially my maternal grandfather. He seemed to always be happy. He did whatever the hell he wanted to do, whenever he wanted to do it. Instead of working he simply lived his life in joy. I wanted to do that.
I have essentially been retired since last November and deep down I know that but yesterday on Main Street talking with that woman was the first time I ever vocalized it. It was the very first time I said, “I am retired.”
Maybe that is because I don’t feel elderly. Seriously, I don’t. Do I have to FEEL elderly in order to FEEL retired? Is that why I haven’t vocalized it until now? Is that why my retirement hasn’t fully sunk in yet?
Retirement is a little more complicated than I thought it would be. It’s more than just no longer having a job. As Henry Miller was fond of saying, I don’t take well to the harness. For me, the best part of any job I’ve ever had was quitting it. I like working but I can’t stand jobs. And now my life-long dream of never having another job has come to fruition but I have yet to fully appreciate it and FEEL it.
I am older than my father was when he kicked the bucket. He never made it to retirement. He never got to FEEL the joy of being out of the harness. I always thought that was so sad.
I have a birthday coming up later this month. I will be yet another year older than my father was when he kicked the bucket. Another birthday isn’t going to make me feel elderly but it’s high time I start feeling retired.
Perhaps another reason retirement hasn’t fully sunk in yet is because I never marked the event. I never threw myself a retirement party. I never celebrated. Heck, until yesterday, I never even said, “I am retired.”
Maybe I can use my upcoming birthday — my first birthday in retirement — to make it official. I can celebrate both my birthday and my retirement in some joyous way. So I will be thinking of just how I am going to do that.
In the meantime today is the New Moon — the best day to start new things. So beginning today I am banishing the word, unemployed, from my vocabulary. I will never say it again. If anyone asks I will now say that, “I am retired.”
I will not, however, begin using the word, elderly. It’s way too early for that.
Copyright by White Feather. All Rights Reserved.
Writings of White Feather
Speaking of elderly…