Living as I have been in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, as a retired person for the past nearly eight years, I’ve often felt I was living in one big beautiful retirement village. Perhaps this is because I’m out and about in the city during daylight hours, when most younger people are at work, and it’s us older residents who are most visible and recognizable – along with tourists of all ages, of course. So the subject of retirement and the way we live it day to day is often uppermost in my mind.
What does it even mean to be “retired”? This, I think, is a question worth exploring — well beyond the financial aspects of it — whether you’re already retired or you’re only in the planning stages. But before I plunge ahead, I’ll back up a bit:
Blogposts are by nature Opinion pieces. My WOW “View” posts, such as this one, always only represent my point of view on a subject. They’re mini personal essays, and as with essays in general, they’re never meant to be the last word.
The word “essay,” in fact, comes from the French verb essayer, which means “to try.” So in the English sense, an essay is an effort to try to understand a subject by writing about it. Essays are meant to spark thought and discussion. They’re invitations to conversations that might lead to wider understanding.
So in this post I’ll try to express what retirement has meant to me so far. At the same time, I invite readers to chime in by sharing their thoughts in the Comments section below, answering the question: What does retirement mean to you?
Many people avoid using the terms “retire” and “retirement,” feeling they imply something unpleasant – the beginning of the end, a withdrawal or retreat from the real world where all the action is. But that’s not the case with me. I don’t see these terms as less-than at all.
To me, being retired means being free – no longer caught up in the ultracompetitive American rat race – free at last to be completely who we’re meant to be and to do what we’re meant to do before we shuffle off…. This is a time to reevaluate how we spend our time and begin spending it to the best advantage, a time to formulate perhaps new goals and purposes, and to find exciting new directions and pursuits.
These days, here in my new apartment in Colonia Independencia, I wake with the rising sun, which I watch from my bedroom windows (one whole wall is a window facing east), as thirsty hummingbirds arrive for their breakfast at my terrace feeder. No jangling alarm clock. No rush to get to an office by 9 a.m. I feel happily, gratefully, luxuriously free – after having been a miniscule part in the vast, cold, (dare I say soulless?) machinery of U.S. industry and commerce for roughly five decades. This to me is bliss.
And this freer time is the furthest thing from idleness or boredom. Especially here in San Miguel, where there is always plenty to do and see, particularly now that COVID is mostly behind us: classes, lectures, concerts, plays, art exhibits, literary events, movies, tours, to say nothing of sampling the many world-class restaurants in this glorious old city.
For myself, a diehard homebody on a tighter budget than most other gringos here, I cherish the time I can stay home in my new apartment and read more books than I ever had time to read before, to write as my muse dictates to me, to walk miles in the Mexican sunshine each day, to meet with a friend for lunch in town or afternoon tea here at my place once a week, to continue my watercolor practice every evening, and to think more deeply about everything – especially our role now as “wise elders” in this crazy, mixed-up world.
This freer time has allowed me to give back, which is a vitally important aspect of our retirement years, I believe. Almost everyone I know here in San Miguel is involved in one or another of the many volunteer opportunities helping out the NGOs that aid the greater community. Among those I’m most familiar with because I have at times participated in their efforts are: Hats and Scarves for Campo Kids, Ojala Niños, Feed the Hungry San Miguel, and So Others May Eat.
Retirement is also a time to have fun – to allow the long-suppressed child inside to play freely. For the past couple of years I’ve been following YouTube tutorials on watercolor painting (especially with Lois Davidson Art), in an effort to improve my perennially amateurish skills. Just this week I started my sixth three-ring binder containing my small, nightly efforts. Am I improving? Slowly, slowly, yes, I guess. But that’s not the point for me. I’m not in competition with anyone. I paint for the joy of it only:
Oh, and are my Spanish language skills improving? Also slowly, slowly yes, gracias a dios. I study and practice a little every day. But it will take me forever to become good. Well, I figure, there’s no rush. I’m not going anywhere. And I have time now. I’m retired.
Are you? If so, I invite you to share your retirement story below.