Dying with My To-Do List Undone


I have written a bit about retirement and it’s one weird state.  Because once you are in school at the age of four or five or six (depending on where you live, what time you lived in and so on), you are in the harness until you retire.  I mean, that’s like 60 or more years!

First it’s the school harness – you have a place to be for so many hours every day for years (decades in some cases.)  Except for vacations and other holiday periods, you are strapped in, baby.

Then when you are finally released from that harness, you go on to the next harness – working life and adulthood.  Even if you were to marry and start having babies immediately, you are in a particular harness of taking care of your kids and home and so on.  But for most of us, child rearing is the second job.  We have the regular 8-to-5 (or 9-to-6) job at least five days a week and then we’re picking  up the kids from somewhere and we’re home getting homework done, dinner made, baths for the little ones and pure exhaustion for the big ones.

That’s a pretty tight harness.  For most of us, the only time away from it is the weekends (and often at least half of the weekend is for the chores that didn’t get done during the week), and about two to three weeks a year when we are on “vacation.”

Then you retire.

If you’re really considered lucky, you retire before 65 or 70 nowadays.  You get a present and a cake or a luncheon (or all of the above) and human resources processes your last check, you pack up your crap, and you’re done.  For the freaking rest of your life.

Or, like me, you close your business, field the calls and make referrals to people, shut down your website and let your license go inactive.  You don’t get a cake or a final check.  But you might go and buy yourself a cookie.

And then you take off the harness of work or business . . . you breathe . . . inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale . . . slower and slower.

And then what?

It must be a sign of being human that we so want compartmentalization and organization, neat boxes to store our junk (whether real or in our minds.)  We want long to-do lists with plenty of tasks to do on them.

We are genuinely terrified of freedom.

No wonder so many retired folk actually go back to work again – just maybe not as intensely.  They work as consultants to their old employers, or on a contract basis.  They take part-time jobs.  They volunteer.  They welcome jury duty.

Anything to put that harness back on, at least for a little while.

Being a mostly anxious person, the thought of free floating time is not my first idea of bliss (although it could be, I guess), so I’ve had to adapt or go mad.

One way both my husband and I are organizing our lives and our time is to put ourselves on flexible daily schedules.

We are not lollygagging in bed until noon.  I am up around sevenish, setting up the coffeemaker and taking my only cup of the real stuff downstairs into my old office which is now my “happy place” for journal writing, meditation, reading and yes, one of these days, yoga DVDs.  (Obviously, not quite to the point of the yoga DVD.)

My husband is up just a bit later than I am, feeding the critters, getting the Roomba ready to rumble on our new wood floors upstairs and then he grabs coffee and heads downstairs to HIS office to write, too.

It is a probable gender difference that, for the ‘Publican, he is happiest with projects and for me, I’m more into the zen approach, although I like my projects (meaning – beginning, middle and end) just fine, too.

So he’s not just writing any old stuff – he’s working on a novel which started life as a short story.  He’s working on it for as long as it takes, but usually around noon or so, he’s done for the day.

He also plays in a community orchestra and on various local musical theater companies, so there’s time involved in practice for that.  We try and get to the gym three times a week.  Plus the daily stuff of pet care and people care.  Beyond that, we have two blogs (one is a travel blog we work on together, although now it’s mostly his, and this one for me), plus plenty of reading.  We also regularly donate platelets at the Red Cross.

And we have the ‘Rents – our elderly parents.  The ‘Publican now spends at least once a week visiting and assisting his parents who live a town over and I’m on call for my mom, too.  I take her to appointments and to see family and friends who are outside the dial-a-ride zone.  She’s pretty independent still, so if she can get to a place on her own, she does.  But we’re cognizant that our parents need us more, not less and will continue to do so until they’re gone.

With all this going on, we really have little time leftover.  We don’t watch TV during the day at all.

I actually have a lot of boxes left unticked on my to-do list which is surprising and a bit disconcerting.

Our one big change that we’ve managed to put together is to buy a motorhome for both short and long trips.  This is a big purchase and not exactly a smart one (not if you’re talking investment), but it’s one that I think will improve our lives for the next few decades.  Right now, the trips contemplated are fairly short – three to four days up the coast or out into the desert.

We took a long trip in January and drove (pre-motorhome) back to Florida to see my father and to just explore.  We stayed in motels (found out the La Quinta chain has the best bang for the buck, especially if you have a pet with you – which we did.)  We had a lot of fun chasing the bad weather or having it chase us, so travel is something we want to do before we’re too old to do it, or enjoy it.

I also want to do more international travel, but for that we’re not talking motorhome.  There’s a lot of Europe still to see as far as I’m concerned.  But an awful lot of the USA and Canada is out there and I’m hoping we can work out times to be just on the road for weeks and perhaps months at a time.

I was always one of those people who thought “When X changes, then I’ll start living my life . . .”.  The “X” could be a million things, of course.  When I can drive a car, when I am 18, when I finish high school and go to college, when I lose my virginity, when I get married, when I have a baby, when I’m thinner, when I get this job, when I move to the next house, when I get divorced, when I get married again, when I get my license and leave this awful job, when I build up my practice, when I retire, when I die.

That last one, of course, is the irony of all of the others, right?  If I’m waiting for some condition to change . . . well, the end is predictable.

It was meditation that broke the grip of this pernicious thinking.  It actually taught me that all of my thoughts, good, bad, indifferent, were just part of the passing parade.  And that maybe I could just live right here and right now.  And the things I chose to do in the present would inform my future, but that the future is not even guaranteed.  So those things I chose to do – I just did them.  No more preparing – just doing.

We are definitely works . . . in progress, not perfection.

And yes, I’m expecting that I will die with many things undone on my final to-do list.

ecards to do list



8 thoughts on “Dying with My To-Do List Undone

  1. I like to keep busy, but I know how to relax, too. I’ve never really been all that big on to-do lists. I keep hearing about people making lists of things they want to do before they die, the “bucket list.” I would prefer to make a list of things everyone seems to think I should experience but I don’t give a fig about. I call it my “fuck it list.”

  2. Aron:

    I love that – the “fuck it list” – and it rhymes! There are plenty of things that yes, others, think are important. One of the nice parts of getting older is that you no longer care what other people think (for the most part). I am always heartened to read about research into the elderly who just are much happier than younger folk – gives me lots of hope in my decrepitude. Thanks for the comment and I’ll be over to read all about it on your blog, too!

  3. I’m laughing at the ‘when I’m thinner’ comment; I’m saying right now! I also finished reading another blogger’s post about an RV and retirement, and I’m liking this RV movement. Alas, I have some time left before I can get one of those, but, how delightful!

  4. Just so you know, that blog is mostly written by my husband (I’m in there, too . . . here and there). We’re enjoying “Curious George” which is MY name for our Georgetown RV.


  5. Thank you so much, Shimon! Love your blog by the way. I’m curious – are there any folks who travel around Israel via RV (either motorhome or trailer)? I know it is a smallish country (compared to the U.S.) but as you said, there is a tremendous geographic variety. Your photos really bring it to life.

  6. Unfortunately, RVs are very uncommon here. Otherwise, I’d get one for sure. But there is camping, lots of motels, and of course, friends in almost every direction…

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