We Are Not Yet Done …

By Nancy Lincoln Reynolds

Many say that history repeats itself. Those of us who have lived beyond half a century understand what that means as we observe the ebb and flow of religious and political tides; the pendulum swings between conservative and liberal attitudes.  We see the reruns of our parents’ and grandparents’ expressions on the faces of children and grandchildren. We watch them struggle with some of the same realities of life that we faced and conquered (or not). At some level we painfully acknowledge the consequences of the human condition’s struggle to balance pride, greed and ego with generosity, compassion and sacrifice.

While many of us consider retirement or have already attained it, we are far from “done” with recycling and repetitive process. In fact, living often well into our 80s and beyond, we now tread new ground where vantage points on history can still call us to action or to respond. Prolonged energy and new opportunities free us to ask, “So who am I now?” and, “What do I do next?” Our answers can contain the enviable values of experience and wizened survival of trial and error.

Reflections on the Bay remind and exemplify perhaps the best of what we may be in “retirement years” as we glean from the process of repeated history. Preservation efforts speak loudly about learning from our mistakes and taking measures to correct them. Projects and websites advocate the reduction of pollution, restoration of habitats, management of fisheries and protection of watersheds. They also encourage stewardship through education and mobilizing individual and community action. It is the latter that catches my attention as one who “is not done yet” and who holds that vision of history that repeats itself. Being good stewards of the Bay is one of many aspects of lifestyle in retirement years where we may act on our observation of destruction or bad behaviors that have come from the human condition. There are many others. We house the patience and wisdom to focus on generosity, compassion and sacrifice in efforts to effect corrections of what we have seen falter and fail.

Retirement may be a time to slow down in many respects, but it is not time to “give up” as though we were also retired from responsible humanity. It is not a time to turn off our educated and best visions, throw up our fatigued hands and effectively say, “Let’s leave it to the young and next generations to figure it out for themselves.” As soon as we do that, we fail in a most significant focus of preservation: ourselves.

I am a strong supporter of hospice and its emphasis on palliative care. The message there is the same: the end of life has quality, value and importance. Most of us resist places that appear to offer themselves as final destinations where one goes, or is put, when they are “done.” I’m not sure there is such a time in life, really, as religions frame the value of life often in the context of good deeds and service to others.  That, it seems to me, in various forms, may be the stewardship role of “who am I now” and “what do I do next” in retirement years.

On a recent trip to Hungary, the “old country” of my grandparents, I had occasion to visit with a Ukrainian man who faces, as all young men aged 18-45 do there, the possibility of being called into military duty as his specialization becomes necessary. I grew up hearing stories of Soviet occupation in Hungary in World War II, and the devastating disappointment when the US did not follow through on the Eisenhower administration’s promise to step in during the revolution of 1956. “To all those suffering under communist slavery, you can count on us,” was empty hope. I asked Boris what he thought would happen in the current situation involving Ukraine. “I believe we can win this war,” he said. “If Europe and the United States will help, as they say, we can win it. If not, we will not win it.” I see the strong statements of support on the news, and yet I wonder if history will repeat itself … I do not know. But I can identify a vantage point there as clearly as we may have one on the daily decisions to intervene in the overfishing of rockfish populations, the elimination of oyster beds and the pollution of Bay waters.

We have learned much from history’s mistakes in our individual lives, in our communities, country and in the world. Our own lives are incredibly valuable resources to be drawn upon in these retirement years as we stand on the brink of history repeating itself. And we have the advantage of time to apply what we have learned to new things that actually renew us as well. As we are transformed by the renewing of our minds in this way, let’s rewrite the history of what one does in retirement years. It seems to me that this is where we may be most influential and creative, as we offer the next generations the preservation of what we have learned.  We are far from “done” yet!

(I would welcome hearing about what others have done or are doing “post-retirement,” so please email me at  [email protected] with permission to use your stories.)

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