April 27, 2011

USA: "This weighs on my mind. The retirement blues will continue until I work out a solution"

PORTLAND, Maine / The Elder Storytelling Place / Time Goes By / April 27, 2011

Retirement Blues - April 14, 2011

By Ernest Leichter

Usually when someone retires from his job, the office staff chips in to buy the retiree a new set of golf clubs, a tool box or a gift certificate to a movie theater.

My fellow teachers did something different. They bought me a seven-pound, 2,215-page Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary. I didn’t know whether to be grateful or insulted by this gift. Writing on the inside cover included comments such as:

“Ernie, you certainly can use this.”

“Ernie, here is some light reading for your leisure time. Don’t read it all in one sitting.”

“Ernie, now you finally have the time to open a book like this.”

My disability retirement at the age of 56 on April 14, 1993, exactly 18 years ago, caught my friends off guard. When I told them I was leaving because of a worsening asthmatic condition, they wished me luck and hoped the transition would be smooth.

It hasn’t been. It’s not because my days aren’t filled with a variety of activities; That hasn’t been the case. Volunteering at schools and centers that distribute food to the poor have taken up a lot of my time.

Alice and I try to go back east at least once a year to see my grandchildren. We travel south to Los Angeles during the Thanksgiving holidays to spend time with Alice’s two daughters. At Christmastime, we motor north to Marysville to see Alice’s son and his children.

My leisure time is filled with gardening, trips to the movies, reading, a life stories writing class, meeting with our Jewish friendship group once a month and walks around the neighborhood or Spring Lake. Once or twice a week, I go to go to a satellite racing facility at the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds to wager a few dollars on horse races.

Our health has been fairly good for people in their seventies. Sounds like an idyllic life. But there is something missing.

Each time I volunteer at a Santa Rosa Elementary School, I do so as an outsider. At one time, as a classroom teacher, I had a tremendous influence on students and parents. Students looked to me to educate and entertain them. Parents knew that I played a big role in their child’s life. Administrators trusted me to uphold the reputation of the school.

When I walked into the faculty room a few years ago, I was initially greeted warmly by the teachers. After a few minutes of exchanging greeting, they went back to discussing problems that concerned them such as yard duty, open houses, parent conferences, student discipline and money issues.

These problems were of no concern to me. I might as well have been a potted plant from that point forward.

Two years ago, I worked out a schedule with the three teachers in whose rooms I volunteer. We agreed that I would start my tutoring just after morning recess and end it just before lunchtime. I did this because I didn’t want to listen to the day-to-day problems of the teachers.

It is sad because school has always been a second home to me. Now it is just another volunteering site.

Nowadays, I never set foot in the faculty room. Very seldom do I have an opportunity to even converse with any of the three teachers. The papers of the students who need help are located in a folder in the back of the room. I spend about 45 minutes in each of the three classes. As I leave, I wave goodbye to the teacher and hear, “Thanks Ernest,” as I go out the door.

I feel like a professional athlete who retires in his 30s after his physical skills start to decline. Because his goal was to play professional sports, he is ill-equipped to do anything else. The rest of his life is anticlimactic. No more owners want him on their team. No more crowds cheer his prodigious feats.

In most cases, money isn’t the problem when he retires. The problem is that nobody needs him anymore.

The conscious part of my mind tells me that teaching for 30 years was enough, but the subconscious part knows that I am no longer making an important contribution to academia. As this weighs on my mind, the retirement blues will continue until I work out a solution.

As Thomas Wolfe so eloquently wrote in his novel You Can’t Go Home Again,

“You can’t go back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame - back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”

© 2011 Ronni Bennett.