Am I Old Yet?

Published January 17, 2020 in Warp & Woof

Am I Old Yet?

An Update

William Sundwick
Warp & Woof has seen other pieces about getting old. It seems I owe the reader an update from time to time. I am now mid-way through my fifth year of retirement.

I wouldn’t contest the rationale for my exit from the Library of Congress after 42 years – the decision was a sound one, backed by sound reasoning. The retirement adventure began with excitement and enthusiasm in 2015. I was getting out beforeI got old. This was good. The first thing I noticed was what an incredible relief it was to sleep in every morning. (I am not a lark by nature, but an owl.)

As time passed, the distance increased from the institution I had served for the bulk of my life. I went back only once, within the first year after retiring – for a tour with our neighbors and their then seven-year-old grandson. He was impressed; me not so much.

By now, I can safely say that I’ve retained absolutely no knowledge of the things which qualified me for my highest-level position, and my status at the Library. It’s telling that I’ve written only one post in Warp & Woof about anything I learned from a career at the Library of Congress!

My wife’s situation is different. She still works there, in an analogous position to mine. We’ve discussed her retirement decision process using the same criteria I used in making my 2014 decision. It doesn’t work for her, since she has something I lacked – deep personal friendships with some of her colleagues. Even Facebook friends carried over from work are now fading from my active interest. Apparently, my professional life was rather shallow compared to hers.

My credo is “don’t look back” – that 42-year career is no different from my ancient childhood memories of growing up in Flint, Michigan. Nothing is forever.

Other social outlets have become suitable substitutes for whatever I lost from my professional relationships at the Library. There’s church, community, and my Writers’ Group. Then, there are my kids – and grandkids – all local still!

I am also fortunate that no major health concerns have emerged (yet). I find that good habits regarding fitness and diet do seem to pay dividends. Practicing good habits is the best way to do maintenance as we get older, even if gym memberships don’t necessarily constitute social engagement.

While some interests from earlier phases of life (even the first couple of post-retirement years) have waned – sex, cars, and computer/software geekery among them – others have emerged, like politics, philosophy, and popular music, seen as art. I feel my mind is still active; I read lots, listen to podcasts, and continue to write for this blog. I am immensely grateful for time spent with my two sons, and the grandkids. Babysitting is a joy!

So, when do I get old? Could it be when I become more absorbed with my legacy than my life? I don’t spend much time with that perennial question: “Will anybody miss me when I’m gone?” Ultimately, it doesn’t matter since I won’t be here to know. And memories are different from “missing” someone, anyway. But we do all have legacies.

I suspect mine will be divided between the concrete legacy (financial, educational, values transmitted to offspring) and the abstract legacy (impact on strangers and unborn generations). I can see evidence of the concrete legacy every day, but the abstract variety is more elusive. The latter might make me wonder what I was doing for 42 years at one of the world’s foremost cultural institutions. Screw it! Hardly anybody deserves the privilege to worry about those things, right? I’m not ready yet to spend time justifying my legacy, either variety, as “good.” Leave that for others to judge.

So, if I’m not old yet because I don’t worry about my legacy, am I maybe starting to get tired? The answer is both yes and no. As noted above, sleep is a motivator — perhaps even more now than five years ago? But when awake I can usually still engage in lively conversation on any number of issues. I believe I have no difficulty getting people to understand what I’m saying. People, in general, are never tiresome – although my grandchildren can be very tiring!

A final indicator of being old might be the role dreams play in my life. Are they still there? I must confess to a “new boredom” at times. Much of what sparked my imagination in times past only elicits a “meh,” or yawn, now. Perhaps I need to find new emotional stimuli? Cultural conditioning is a constraint here in my response to art. I always look to younger folks (like my kids) for help in this area. Millennials are still the best interlocutors for art appreciation.

Whether I decide to define myself as old or not, there remain the Erik Erikson developmental stages of life. I am now wrestling with stage 8, “Integrity vs. Despair” – working full-time on the complete integration of my personality. This is the final act. I’m waiting only for stage 9, the hypothetical one suggested just before the Eriksons’ deaths, where everything rewinds back to the beginning!

I should be asking myself if there is anyone I missed – any debts I still owe? Are there still some opportunities to exploit? And, if I’m truly old, I need to start prioritizing what to do with the time left. Should I start leaving Post-It notes? But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep” – Robert Frost.

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