September 26th, 2018
I had a couple beers with Mike and Taylor yesterday afternoon. We met at the Water Street Brewery once their work was done at the trucking company. Mike and Taylor run the early morning dock, the same shift I worked before I retired from that corporation nearly three years ago. Taylor starts his job as the planner at 1:00 AM, just like I used to do. It’s a hideous time to be at work. It’s so, so wrong. Mike starts a couple hours later, but he also stumbles into the office during the predawn hours. Both of those guys looked exhausted when we met at the bar, and, of course, they were.
We caught up on current events. I generally meet with Mike every month or so, but I hadn’t seen Taylor for well over a year. We talked about a variety of things: our families, politics, and my strange, twisted adventures. As time went on, our discussion focused on the workplace, because that is our strongest connection. It is also a connection that, for me at least, becomes more tenuous with each passing day.
Mike and Taylor sometimes spoke of people whom I have never met. They deal with dockworkers and drivers and managers who started at the company after I had abandoned the place. As time goes on, the number of people I know decreases, and the number of people who are unknown to me grows. As I expected, the corporation functions just fine without me. Some of the employees there might remember me, but memories are short. That is simply how things are.
I know of two men who retired just before I did, Chuck and Ken. They completely cut any connection between themselves and their former employer (and their former co-workers). Those two guys disappeared off the radar. They made an absolutely clean break. To a certain extent, their actions make total sense. I mean, “It’s over.” It’s done. Time to move on, and all that sort of thing. They were realists.
Or maybe not. The past is past. Zen practice reminds me often that I can do nothing about the past, and that the future does not yet exist. All I have is now. I get that. However, even if the past is gone, it still affects the present. Who I was makes a difference with regards to who I am. I always hear the echoes of my past. This means that I am extremely reluctant to sever ties with old friends, even when I should know better. I don’t hang on to things, but I hang on to people. I should let go of all of that.
A friend of mine retired just recently from the VA. He was an emergency room doctor at the local VA hospital. He called me two weeks ago, agonizing over his post-VA life. My friend is good at agonizing. I am not. After listening to him wallow in uncertainty and anguish for a while, I finally told him,
“You are a teenager again! You can do whatever you fucking want!”
I spoke the truth. If a person can retire (and I know that many people cannot), then that person has an opportunity that most inhabitants of this planet will never have. It is an opportunity and a duty. After retirement, I found out that my purpose in life was to discover my purpose in life. That may sound trite, but it is God’s truth.
For those who somehow manage to achieve retirement, the challenge is to forge a new identity. The fact is that I am not the person who was at the trucking company for twenty-eight years. That fucker is gone. I am now somebody else, and I really ought to get to know that person.
This is not necessarily a hopeless or useless struggle. I have had some fun (and some pain) during the last three years. I went to a Japanese Buddhist temple with my wife and youngest son. I stayed with my wife at a remote Benedictine monastery in New Mexico. I got busted for civil disobedience at an Air Force base near Las Vegas. I shot an AR-15 with my redneck oldest son. I learned all about immigration law at a class in Chicago, and now I will be more involved in helping immigrants than I ever thought I would be. I learned to kayak with an old friend from West Point. I walked through the country with a band of Indians. I have tried to help loved ones who struggle with PTSD and/or addictions. The last three years have been a wild ride, and I thank God for all of these experiences.
So, what is my point? I’m not sure. All I know is that I am much closer to death than I am to my birth. The clock is ticking. One part of my life is over. I know that. I have another part to live. My goal is to live. My goal is to make a difference, although I don’t know how. All I know is that I need to do and need to be.
Wish me luck.