I’ve been debating whether to post this. Sometimes we all have to keep secrets, if only out of kindness, so as not to be a burden. But sometimes, the kindest thing is to share our human frailty.
I’ve made no secret of my migraine/seizure disorder. It’s a difficult condition to describe or explain, but thankfully one that shows up on an EEG, so I can rest assured myself that it’s not merely my imagination, and that dealing with it is not just a matter of trying harder, or having a bit more backbone. I’ve been through Army Basic. I’ve faced down and overcome problems all my life. But this, I have to live with; there is no overcoming.
So, last week I announced that I was retiring. What only a few people have known till now is that means having been approved for disability benefits. I tried holding out until early retirement next year, taking contract work until then, and stoking the fires of my own projects a little more for income. But I just no longer have the mental focus I could once depend on. And more significantly, my condition is triggered by the pressure of major deadlines, and by balancing the feast-or-famine budget common to creative occupations.
It’s a bit of struggle to come to grips with having to slow down. I’ve so many more dreams left to accomplish. And it’s a struggle to have to accept any sort of public aid until normal retirement age. I come from a long line of workaday forebears who “don’t cotton to charity.” But while my life is rich in experiences, memories, and offspring, my occupation has not brought what the American Dream classifies as wealth.
But to quote Green Day…
I’m still breathing.
I’m still breathing on my own.
My head’s above the rain and roses,
Making my way, away,
My way to you.
I sit here choked up at the sense of hope in the face of mortality within those lines. Because part of this retirement transition has been thinking this opens the final chapter of my life. And as I said, I’ve so many dreams …
Three things cushion me from despair:
- Romain Rolland wrote that “Wealth is a disease.” Specifically:
“Wealth severs the tie which binds men to the earth, and holds the sons of the earth together. And then how can you expect to be an artist? The artist is the voice of the earth. A rich man cannot be a great artist. He would need a thousand times more genius to be so under such unfavorable conditions. an artist who doesn’t have to struggle with daily life grows out of touch and cannot really produce art.”
- Years ago, I came to view existence like an ocean, and living things as waves in that ocean. You can watch any wave rise from the water, give it a name if you like, see it grow and change as it moves toward shore, where it inevitably must spend itself and disappear. But the water remains. And the energy that impelled that wave continues.
- My father mentioned, when he learned of my retirement, “I’ve been retired for 25 years!”—there’s longevity in my lineages, from both sides of the family. I could still do a lot in 25 years, probably even see my grandkids marry, and live to see great-grandkids, as my mother and father both have.
So I keep breathing. And I keep appreciating the opportunities to create—with a healthy lack of wealth—and maybe even leave some work of lasting value to survive my eventual passing. I’m thankful for the “rain and roses,” and for the chance to keep connecting to you.