When I retired 9 years ago at the age of 55, I had no expectations about retirement other than that it would be nice to not have the daily pressures of a high-stress job. I was the chief financial officer of a school board. I was looking forward to building a home on a lake, travelling, some golf, reading, maybe some volunteer work – a life of leisure. Life would be so easy. It was time to enjoy all the rewards of retirement. Then something happened. My first grandchild was born in 2005.
I have two children – a girl and a boy, now in their thirties. I read somewhere how lucky parents are when the apples of their tree fall up. That certainly is the case for me. My children are successful professionals with equally competent and well-established spouses. They also, like me, have 2 kids, a boy and a girl. All are living within couple of hours drive away from us. They bring me joy beyond all expectations. The fulfilment from being a grandfather should be enough for me but it is not. There is a dark side!
The birth of the first grandchild has awakened an all-consuming passion to want to redress the wrongs that have been created ‘on my watch’. Therein lies the problem. I was not ‘watching’ or paying sufficient attention to what was going on around me locally, nationally and globally. Being too busy raising a family, making ends meet, putting kids through university, climbing the ladder of success, rising to the top, accumulating wealth, saving for the future is not an excuse. I was simply out of touch. I was going through life more or less on automatic pilot mode, too often unconscious of what is truly important. It is not acceptable to say I did the best I could with what I knew at the time.
The arrival of grandchildren has made me genuinely aware and this has changed the way I see the world around me. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn (Executive Director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society),
“Genuine awareness can modulate our thinking so that we become less driven by unexamined motivations to put ourselves first….regardless of the beauty that’s come out of civilization, we could continue on a path of colossal upheaval …..these upheavals could destroy everything we hold most dear”.
We need to listen to and see what is really happening around us. We cannot continue to dominate the planet the way our species has. We need to examine and understand the impact of our daily choices. Increasingly, we need to seek the Joy of Quiet (Op-Ed by Pico Iyer, NYT of December 29, 2011) in a world focused on immediate and relentless communication.
As Socrates claimed, “the unexamined life is not worth living”. It’s easy to go through life totally preoccupied and self-absorbed and forget to make the kind of fundamental inquiry that is essential. And now that I am questioning everything, I cannot remain neutral, uninvolved, complacent, undisturbed by what I see and what I know. I am compelled to ACT.
I cannot change the past but I can influence the future by what I do in the present. Please join me in making our world a better place.