There was an interesting article in the Sunday New York Times last week about the Protestant work ethic and how it affects our work habits even if we're not aware of its effect. I'm not part of a work force these days and haven't been since I left a corporate job in 2006. I still freelance a bit, but mostly I'm "retired," and that's what's been nagging at me for the last few years: Why is it that
- I still feel guilty if I'm not doing something that looks like work.
- I don't like admitting to people that I'm retired. They might think I'm a layabout.
- When I do "lay about," I feel like someone is going to catch me at it, and then I'll really be in trouble.
I am the oldest of seven, and when I was a kid, I was the quintessential mother's little helper, except it wasn't as cute as they make out in TV ads. It was a lot of work! I fed babies and changed their diapers, hung wet laundry on the line and took it in when it was dry, folded about a zillion diapers a day and babysat the kids if Mother and Daddy went to Uncle Max's house to play cards. If Mother caught me reading a book, she's say, "Don't have anything to do? I'll give you something to do." Then she'd hand me a dish towel or a potato peeler or a laundry basket. So when I wanted to read, I'd hide in the closet with a flashlight or read under the covers at night, ditto the flashlight.
I'm not complaining. That's just the way it was in those days, but clearly, that's where the guilt started. One of the nice things about working a day job was that there was a clear division between work time and play time. It was OK to lie on the sofa at night and just look at the ceiling - I had earned the down time. I no longer read books while sitting in a dark closet with a flashlight, but I usually don't read until I go to bed at night. It just doesn't feel right to read a book during the day. I feel like I should be "doing" something.
My idea of "retirement" is not to "retire" at all but to do those things I love to do and never had time for before - even when I was a kid. I wonder how it would be to rollerskate through my neighborhood, now that I have time. What about playing jacks on the sidewalk? Lie on the grass with a good book and read and watch clouds and read some more. Write letters to people - on paper - with a fountain pen - and then mail them - in an envelope - with a real stamp. Sit on the curb with a friend and share dreams about the future. Chase waves at the beach. Build a sand castle. Eat homemade fudge. Knock on a friend's door and when she answers, say, "Can you come out and play?"
Knock on my own door. Go out and play.