Saturday, July 2, 2011

All They Will Call You Will Be "Retiree"

I wasn't sure whether to write about this, but why not? At this time of year I'm usually writing about my latest trip to Korea. I'd already decided to stay at home this summer, but I think that I have news at least as momentous. Those who'd rather keep to the impersonal can skip this post; I've got a lot of other things to write about soon. I even suspect that one reason why I haven't been writing much lately is that I've been sitting on this news. It's certainly been on my mind, crowding out almost everything else.

As of July 1, I'm retired. The university offered selected people an early retirement package, and I was one of those who accepted it. I was planning to retire in another year and a half anyway, when I turn 62, but the plan, while not ideal (support me in luxury for the rest of my life, maybe?), was good enough to induce me to retire now. I didn't even talk to friends about it much, because I had to wait for the confirmation of my acceptance, and then signing the separation forms, and then waiting for my last day of work. Until then I didn't feel sure it would happen. Now I'm safely over the finish line.

I've been thinking a lot about what it means, and why I'm not more excited about the change. Part of me doesn't like change. When I first came to Bloomington as a student forty years ago, I'd been wanting to move here for years, but I still felt an inward dread, a fear that I wasn't good enough to stay here, that I'd be found out. (Found out as what? I don't know.) For a couple of weeks I was even unable to settle into my dorm room. In a few months I felt like I belonged, though it took me a long time to realize I was becoming a permanent resident, indeed a fixture, of the campus and the city. And now here I am, leaving my job, though as a retiree I'll still have numerous connections to the university.

I'd think my unease was related to increasing awareness of mortality, if I hadn't felt it at 20, when I moved to Bloomington. Still, that must be lurking in there somewhere. Retirement is partly a beginning, especially for someone like me who can retire relatively young (60), in good health (no serious problems that I know of, knock wood), with a decent pension and other benefits, and with plenty of interests to beckon me forward. But it's also the beginning of the final act of life. My parents were both pretty long-lived, and I can reasonably expect to see another couple of decades, or more. But a couple of decades don't seem as long as it did when I was twenty, and I can almost see the dark at the end of the tunnel, and there's so much I'd like to do. Time to start doing it then.

So, what next? Not a lot of change, really. I hope to read more, and write more, see more films and concerts, and develop some new routines. (One of those will be cooking for myself; for nearly thirty-seven years I've taken most of my meals at work.) I still plan to travel to Korea next summer, and in the meantime I plan to study Korean, so it'll be fresh in my mind when I return. (I took a semester of Korean in 1995, but didn't go to Korea until five years later. It's impressive that I remembered as much as I did, thanks to my Korean friends, the Korean movies I watched, and the Korean pop music I listened to.) I still want to move to Korea, and I will try to prepare for that move: selling off some of my books and records that I wouldn't be able to take with me, for example. Korea hovers in front of me now as Bloomington did forty years ago, as my destination and my destiny. It occurs to me that if I had tried to move to Korea now, I'd be feeling the same unease I was feeling about retirement, and I'd be afraid it had something to do with Korea instead of me. Now I hope I'll know better. It had been so long since I'd had such a major change in my life, my emotional reaction took me by surprise. If I feel the same way when I take up residence in Korea, I'll recognize it so it won't affect me as much.