In the Spring of 2014, 8 years after resigning the Augsburg presidency, Anne and I retired. We stopped hoping for interim posts or consultancies, and started thinking hard about how to live without the cash and connections of employment. Age 80 had come into view for both of us, but we had yet to develop a strategy for replacing colleagues with neighbors, acquaintances and relatives with friends, and house with home. In fact, we had yet to decide where we were going to attempt this exercise in home-making.
We took up Planning, the art regularly practiced in our work but never in our lives. We began by abandoning our long-standing determination to live in America’s Pacific Northwest—fewer acquaintances and more of them attached to a part rather than the whole of our lives—and moved on to shedding whimsies that had more to do with place than people—to live in foreign cities, large Victorian houses (with a lot of rehabilitation projects), suburbs and small towns. Instead, we conceived of a series of household moves that would lead us from diaspora to our own new and final Jerusalem. We thought wistfully of starting in Chicago, the first city of both of our diasporas and of our meeting and courtship, and swerved back to the Twin Cities. We had friends in both places, but the Chicago ones were from banking and other careers that had lost their currency with us. The Twin Cities ones were fresher; they had been gathered in the course of accomplishing the Augsburg presidency—the most thrilling work of our lives.
To address the home-making task, we drew up a list of Retirement Questions, presuming to answer them with the attentiveness eventually liberated from the duties of employment: Whom had we each so far become—as spouses, parents, friends, selves? What now were our respective prospects for personal growth and new life—and how could we best realize them?
The peripatetic lives that both of us had so far lived had denied us comprehensive and integrated narratives from which we could extract identities confirmed by a core of close relatives and friends with whom we had shared the formative encounters of our respective autobiographies. The Retirement Questions thus became the starting line of our retirement ramble. We were thrilled at first by the creative freedom implied by the fact that we had no answers to them—until we realized that we were fleeing just such freedom in order to end our diasporas in a community that we could serve and that would be willing to serve us. Continue reading