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Interim Report on Retirement

Interim Report on Retirement

    With better than a year's experience behind me, I can now report with certainty my personal reactions to retirement.

    Let me deal first with the nostrum offered me ad nauseam by dozens of well-meaning souls seeking to comfort me with the thought that I would be OK in my twilight years.  They said to me about themselves: "I am so busy in retirement I don't know how I ever had time to work."  Not so.  For me, anyway.  As much as I enjoy the mental challenge of completing The New York Times Sunday Magazine crossword puzzles every week, I have missed, if only occasionally, the wonderful exhaustion and sense of purpose which follows leading Sunday worship.  There are few ecstasies, this side of playing games of pick-up basketball, comparable to slumping into a recliner Sunday around 1 PM physically and emotionally drained from preaching, and thinking you've done it very well indeed. 

    I had a couple more good years of pastoring in me, and I remain uncomprehending and sometimes unforgiving toward those who rigidly enforced a mandatory retirement rule they could have adjusted. 

    On the other hand, I could not now return to the pressure cooker of the pastorate.  I have grown accustomed to a much slower pace of life.  The day's agenda is slightly more in my hands to determine than in the first seventy years of my life.  I do enjoy a silent phone, sleeping late, shaving later, going on errands whenever it pleases me, and not having to visit hospitals and nursing homes.  And when in my visits to other churches, I read in the bulletin the round of committee meetings scheduled for the following week, I say to myself and anyone else within listening distance, "Free at last; thank God Almighty, I'm free at last!"  The same goes for Annual Conference and command performances for the District Superintendent.

    Not that I am anchored to my easy chair.  Quite the contrary.  We bought a new Ford Taurus station wagon last November.  By the time you read this essay the odometer will evidence our peripatetic ways in retirement: 20,000 miles in a year... and we have three cars in our driveway.  The miles pile up when the itinerary includes Baltimore, Vermont, Shelter Island, Valley Stream, and Williamstown.  For the unbelieving I post a picture of the dashboard of the Ford just a day before our proposed 750 mile trip (assuming Isabel doesn't intervene) to and from Hunt Valley MD, to return our daughter's rent-a-dog, Teddy. 

    Another nostrum was offered me in June 2002, about my vocation for the last fifty years, that "once a pastor always a pastor."  The verdict on this one is mixed.  Our listing in the local phonebook reads: Barbara and Bob Howard.  When asked my name, in a church or out of them, I say simply, "Bob Howard."  Younger people seeing my bald head perhaps and assuming I am a retiree, never, well, almost never, inquire as to my previous line of work.  When they do, I respond, "I was a preacher."  Notice the past tense.  It's accurate.  I haven't preached since June 23, 2002. 

    That is, if you don't count weddings.  My dear, dear Junior Highs, to whom I devoted Sunday afternoons and dozens of long weekends on retreats, have returned to me in their maturity wanting me to be a part of their weddings.  In retirement I have presided or, a couple of times, participated in eight services of marriage, with three still in the offing.  I never anticipated this nostalgia from Junior Highs.  And, be it noted, it's not just the women; guys too, four of them, have sought my blessing.  Must be all of those games of basketball and baseball I let them win (only kidding!).   

    At one of those weddings the groom's grandfather, seeing me, asked with a certain edge in his voice just what I thought about retirement.  He had been a union representative and enjoyed the respect, importance, and usefulness the job provided him.  He correctly assumed that I would have had a similar experience of loss.  The one thing I miss most in retirement is being in the middle of things and people and community, and playing a useful role there. 

    Grandpa's complaint attended a small epiphany in my perception of living this mortal life: that as difficult as it may be for young men to assume the responsibility for earning a living and taking care of a family (adolescent rebellion against socialization), just as difficult is it for some of us old men to relinquish responsibilities long held.  One fears the loss of freedom, the other the loss of importance.  To tell the truth, I went at the adult world and its responsibilities with gusto at the tender age of twenty-two. At the less than tender age of (nearly) seventy-two, I find myself in a forced retreat from what others might call the burdens of adulthood.  When others counsel me to let go, ease up, and slow down, I confess I hear a not-so-subtle message to go and... join the church triumphant.

    But before I go there, I'm planning double knee replacement surgery, after which I'll take the grandson twins to Disney World one more time and walk with them all over Walter's heaven.  Upon our return I am going to throw myself a retirement party, the last week in June 2004, when I would have retired if I had not been thrown to the bureaucratic lions two years too early by the bishop.

    Thanks for asking.  You did, didn't you?


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