For regular readers of Living Wittily apologies for the absence over the past week or two. There have been other fish to fry, other books to read, other places to be, people to meet, and things to get done with some urgency and determination. Of the things to be done the most 'need to get this done' obligation is all about pensions! It isn't so much difficult as serious when you are making decisions about the rest of your life, when a big chunk of it is already behind you! And the pensions adviser is asking the necessary hypotheticals about what happens if.....!
This February I will reach retiring age, which for me living in 21stC Scotland, is 65, while for many younger than me that dateline age is a receding horizon; my children may have to work till they are 70 before state pension age. Inevitably, and quite properly, such a life event as a retirement date prompts some serious reflection on what has been and what still might be, what has been done and what can still be achieved.
So here are some ordinary conclusions which have grown out of some thinking and praying, swithering and deciding about this quite remarkable gift which we are right to take for granted, life. To take something for granted is not to undervalue its reality, it is to receive it as a gift without spending life and energy feeling guilty about it. The proper response is gratitude, and the best gratitude is our joy in the gift and in the generous love of the Giver.
Retirement is both an artificial label and a fiscal reality. I have no intention of stopping doing what I have done all my working life, though I may do less of it, and have more choice how long and how much. I preach, spend time with people in pastoral friendship, read and write sermons, teach and explore theology. Those choices of how much and hor often and how long I work are made possible by an income now unrelated to work done and hours contracted out.
Retirement from paid work is not retirement from vocation. Not everyone in our cultural climate would call what they do a vocation, a calling. But many do. And they are not just ministers of religion. Nurses, doctors, social workers, artists, teachers, IT specialists, pilots, fire service, police, naturalists, environmental officers - these are only some of the jobs that some of my friends would be just as passionate about as I am of being a minister. That's because they have a sense that what they do for money they don;t do just for the money. Unsurprisingly, that's also true of my own take on post 65 birthday.
Retirement is an opportunity to make different choices and enjoy new opportunities. By the time you're 65 the bumper wisdom that says "Life is short, eat your pudding first" takes on a poignant urgency. So these next years it makes sense to do what you really want to do; to spend time with those whose presence and gift of themselves is fundamental to who we are; to gather the goodness of each past year into an external drive for safekeeping, there to ponder the grace that gave each day, grateful and glad for just being there to live it; to kick the bucket that holds the list and just do the blessed list! Well, within limits. Because there are limits. I've little patience with the can do mentality that seems to ignore all the reasons, good and real reasons of life obligations and resources, that stop us living every dream. But there are liveable, realisable, affordable dreams that still demand risk, energy, effort and the courage to reach out and embrace them in all their possibility.
Retirement is not about me; it is about me in relation to others. I am also tired of the me, me, me, litany of life that pervades the social media like an unexamined credo of the self. My own happiness is not always the most important thing. What I think of myself is not always the best criterion for self-knowing, self-awareness and self-transformation. What I want is not a Christian categorical imperative if what I want is achievable only at the cost and loss it causes others. It is still the case that of all the ways of living our lives, young or old, "the greatest of these is love." If life till 65 means I am now a graduate in the skills and knowledge of living, then post retirement is post-graduate study, researching wider and deeper on the mystery and miracle of human beings and human being.
So now that the forms are filled, the advice is taken, the process of pension calculation hums away in the background, very little has changed or will change radically on my birthday. But if as Kirekegaard urged, life can only be understood backwards and lived forwards, then I am also persuaded of the wisdom of Dag Hammarskjold: For all that has been - Thank you. For all that is to come - Yes.
(The photo is a small central panel from the current tapestry I am working, "Eucharist and Pentecost". Tapestry is for me a contemplative form of art, or an artistic form of spirituality.