We have retired- partly for health reasons, partly because we could, partly because we were ready for a big change. But we stopped working a little earlier than most people do, so we are younger than the people we are meeting here. This is a change for us. Both of us were teachers, always surrounded by people younger, not older than us.
But I am gradually learning to appreciate what is good in my new culture.
- People are not defined by their professions. What someone “used to do” has simply not been a matter of discussion. It is not a question that seems to be asked. So I do not know whether my new neighbor Frank was an opthamologist or a custodian, an engineer or an asbestos remover. Instead, I learn to appreciate Frank for his humor, or his kind offer to let me walk across his property on my way to the lake. After years of people’s occupations mattering to me, this is a refreshing change.
- If people don’t ask about jobs, they do ask about children. And grandchildren. But what this tells me is that people who are older have learned the relative worthlessness of things and the worthiness of relationships. Before we moved, I spent a year getting rid of the things that filled our four-bedroom house. Of course nearly everyone who has “down-sized” in his or her retirement has done the same before me. I like being around people that understand that people matter more than things.
- One benefit of age is the understanding that big problems cannot be solved immediately. Usually, problems take a long time to develop, so it’s ok if solutions take a long time, too. I tend to get riled up- about politics, about social ills, about injustices. But maybe my new friends will temper me, teach me that slow change is preferable to fast and easy fixes. I watch them get involved, work for change, but they are content to work without seeing fast results. They are wise enough to know that although big change may not happen tomorrow, small efforts add up into big ones.
- Having time on one’s hand means there is time to learn. So if I ask neighbors about the best plants to grow in sandy soil, chances are that someone will know. People have time to read about climate change. People here attend lectures about history and current events; they attend concerts, watch plays. My new friends are interesting.
- Young people have always made jokes about the frequency that old people talk about health. And it is true: old people have health problems. But here’s what’s also true: my new friends “get” it- that health limits you. They can empathize. They accommodate. They pray. They are not off-put by a cane, a lesion, a wig from chemotherapy. Having their own pain makes them kinder about my pain. When mortality and frailty creep ever so much closer to us, it’s nice to know we have companions, comrades on the journey.