Yesterday I retired from the job I’d held for many years. I had a great sendoff, with lots of good wishes and some truly special gifts from the best bunch of colleagues anywhere, or at least in this corner of the Milky Way. I’ve got plans for the first day of the rest of my life, and the days after that. What’s been a little hard to pin down is my identity and sense of self.
“Retirement,” of course, isn’t what it used to be. In the old days, I might’ve put on a golf cap and plaid pants and headed off for a life on the links. Now I’m updating LinkedIn – but how? Do I call myself a former journalist and writer-editor or a current…what exactly? My conundrum isn’t “Woe is me” but, “Who is me?”
Even though I was ready to move on and did so wholly on my own, with nobody nudging me toward the door, it’s a jolt to the system. Except for a year in grad school, this is the first time I’ve been voluntarily without some kind of paying job since I got my undergrad degree back in (!) 1976.
I’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster, and not just any old rollercoaster, no sir, but one of those new ones like the “Twisted Colossus” or “Wicked Cyclone.” After all, this is a Big Move, especially for someone in the early stages of geezerdom. I was ready to declare a mid-late-life crisis with all the attendant benefits, like moving my personal happy hour from 5:30 to noon. Then I read about the latest chapter in the all but unbelievable story of Austin Hatch.
You might know that name if you’re a University of Michigan sports fan. Austin survived two small plane crashes that killed his parents, brother, sister, and stepmother. The second time, in 2011, he was not only orphaned but left in a coma with a severe brain injury. However, U-M honored the basketball scholarship it had offered before the crash. He fought his way back, stayed on the team, and scored his first points last season in an inspirational moment for the ages.
Now he’s facing another life change. To focus on academics and all-around recovery, he’s taking a medical redshirt. That means he’ll keep his scholarship and be a student assistant with the team but his playing days are over.
This has thrown lots of athletes into despair. But Austin’s response, as reported here by the Detroit Free Press, was “Basketball has always been a huge part of my life, however, it is what I play, not who I am.”
Thanks for the reminder, kid. I’m not a title or a Facebook status, but a person. And if Austin can handle the kind of adversity and upheaval that the fates have dealt him, people like me can definitely get through our own relatively minor transitions. (Grammar grump alert: transition is NOT, at least on these pages, a verb.)
Some of my retirement will be inspired by Bob Dylan’s line “Oh, oh, are we gonna fly, Down in the easy chair!” from “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.” But I’ll also keep trying to live by this one, as I have for a long time: “He not busy being born is busy dying.”
Monday morning I’m going to sleep in. Then I’ll get up and write. See you soon.