Wednesday, May 13, 2009

reversal of gravity

Little or large, old habits die hard, so I imagine that leaving the newspaper business -- retiring, as the expression goes -- will have unforeseen consequences that are not easy. Spending one third of each day doing some particular job adds up to a lot of time and habit over 20-plus years.

Last night the word came down: June 26th will be my last day. The full implications have not sunk in, obviously. On the one hand, it is nice to have settled what was previously hanging fire. On the other hand, the no-going-back concreteness is confusing, daunting, frightening ... in hard times, how do I replace or anyway mitigate the income loss; how do I provide for my family; how do I find the framework of doing that newspaper work provided? How do I feel about it all?

I guess, in some sense, it is like a reversal of gravity: Like having kids, you 'understood' that one day they would leave the nest and then you don't understand at all when they actually do. Old handholds disappear and there is no toe-hold at all. Around the office, colleagues have offered their "congratulations," but the word is strange, given the circumstances ... as if, being at a funeral, someone said, "I'm so sorry for your loss" ... it's just the best anyone can come up with given the actual-factual, gob-stopping nature of the circumstances. What DO you say when whatever you say has little or no meaning?

The children, together with a million lacy tendrils of love and experience and habit-forming understandings, have left home.

The work, together with a million handholds of habit and self-definition, dwindles despite the fact that I 'knew' it would dwindle.

And if others murmur the best murmurs they can come up with, what murmur shall I apply? Here I sit, typing, as if the words could compass and define and make whatever feels worse feel better. But, as if I were enmeshed in some grade-B sci-fi movie and the cast is gathered around a lifeless, mysterious lump that fell from the sky, there comes that moment when the lump moves and some unskilled actor cries, "It's alive! It's alive!"

The negatives and positives flicker on and off like some poorly-connected light bulb. In one moment there is gravity. In the next there is none. Old habits are like that, I guess: Smug, subtle and assuring over long periods of time and then utterly at a loss when faced with some present circumstance. Flicker ... flicker ... flicker.

When it comes to the fears and uncertainties of retirement, I do feel somewhat more fortunate than others in the sense that Buddhism as a practice addresses a world without gravity ... and a world with gravity as well. Not that anything is solved or even really salved because of practice, but at least there are some hints and clues about habits old and new. It's sort of like a habitless habit ... not at all like the warm-fuzzy nostrums of belief and hope, but useful and sane in its way.

Nice to think it has some practical application, however wobbly.


  1. Mmm, the New Yorker recently had a short story of the scifi genre about people who skipped the childhood stage by an accelerated growth process. And then there's the recent movie (which I haven't seen) based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald story about a man who is born old and gets younger as time passes.

    Most of us don't get to follow these cycles though. :) We spend our youth "childing", then we start "working", maybe raise some children ourselves, then move or are moved to retiring. We can get to experience other cycles by reading, writing, watching a movie, but when we come out of it, we're still in the same cycle as before.

    My already retired father was taken to the hospital yesterday for what turned out to be something relatively minor. The next part of the cycle.

    Sorry; I'm rambling on about things that come to mind for me from reading your post, without offering appropriate congratulations/condolences/commiserations. Probably because as I've come to know you I'm not sure which to offer.

    Best wishes?


  2. Retirement...

    Why are all my friends getting old?