Retirement, Misunderstood

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For many, retirement has nothing to do with slowing down and retreating from the world. They just pitch in to help wherever their talents lead them. Marilyn Englander has this Perspective.

For many people the word, “retirement” conjures up a sweet chocolate truffle of delight. But for me the word has always sat like acid on the tongue. As when a friend confides, “I’m getting a divorce,” I feel a seismic shift. A divide opens up. My friend is crossing to the other side, the great unknown.

Many chuckle a little patronizingly about retirement. Letting go, slowing down, dropping out of sight, the process continuing until motion ceases altogether.

Yet I recall an old French maxim, words of wisdom to improve performance, that translates as: “Step back, the better to leap forward.”

For those fortunate to be able to retreat from the frantic rush and clamor of earning a daily dollar, this can be a moment to give back. As I look around me, I see an army of altruistic older people doing just that. They fill the gaps where there aren’t enough tax dollars or labor to keep valuable community services afloat.


Just today, I marveled in admiration at the industrious goodwill of my retired friends. One writes 10 postcards a day to get out the November vote in California’s Central Valley. Another teaches 20 hours of English classes a week to newly arrived immigrants for no pay. Dan coaches kids in an afternoon sports program at a public middle school that serves low income families. Judy teaches 5-year-olds how to swim --- kids whose parents never could afford to buy lessons or take them to a pool. Betty volunteers at the Food Bank three mornings a week all year long. Jan sorts book donations at the library, organizing sales that help fund keeping the doors open longer hours.

These Happy Golden Years folks, who supposedly have “withdrawn” or “retreated,” are actually quietly working all around us, contributing immeasurably to our community. Their efforts may be almost invisible, but their impact is enormous.

As I join their ranks, all at once the word retirement has shed its poison fang for me.

With a Perspective, this is Marilyn Englander

Marilyn Englander is a North Bay educator.