When I retired two years ago, I was sad to leave my friends, both work and personal. This is a common refrain from those contemplating the transition to retirement. I knew that making new friends in a new community would be challenging, to say the least. I had no assurance that I’d be successful in finding new friends. In a future blog post, I’ll talk about what has worked well and not so well in the quest for new friends. What I want to talk about today are the friends I’ve made here and how they have brought me some of the greatest blessings of my life. From the warm embrace of these friendships, I’ve learned more about mindful relationships in retirement than I ever could have hoped.
“Wherever I am, there’s always Pooh,
There’s always Pooh and Me.
Whatever I do, he wants to do,
“Where are you going today?” says Pooh:
“Well, that’s very odd ‘cos I was too.
Let’s go together,” says Pooh, says he.
“Let’s go together,” says Pooh.”
― A.A. Milne, Now We Are Six
I met Deb in a support group for family of residents in a retirement home where both of our mothers lived. I initially requested the support group because I knew that I couldn’t be the only one struggling to be the “good child.” At our first group meeting, I was struck with how Deb was experiencing very similar feelings of inadequacy. After the meeting, Deb asked if I’d like to talk further over coffee sometime soon. We did meet and over time we discovered that we have similar personalities and much in common. We built a strong bond especially after our mothers died within three weeks of each other. Empathy is a powerful tool in our mindfulness toolbox. It enables us to step outside of our self-focused thoughts and be truly present with what is happening in the moment. Making new friends in retirement is challenging because the built-in infrastructure of school and work is no longer available. However, by searching out new opportunities for common needs, interests, and feelings to emerge, we are able to show empathy and new friendships can flourish.
For the last week, my husband, Jim, has been in the hospital with pneumonia. Needless to say, it’s been a stressful week. My friend, Deb, has called and texted me every day, asking how I am and how she can help. She offered to take me to dinner and even to the movies. While I genuinely appreciate her offers, I didn’t really want to leave my husband. She understood. Yesterday, when I went home for dinner and to let the dogs out, I noticed a bag on my doorstep. Deb left me a complete dinner, fully prepared! It was timely because I was exhausted and in no mood to cook just for me. Her kindness meant the world to me.
Kindness comes in many forms but it usually involves the element of surprise and delight. Often, kindness shows up as sacrifice – of time, money, or effort. Recently, I asked my new friend, Victoria, if she would teach me how to knit. Not only did she agree but she refused to let me pay her and she supplied the yarn, needles, and supplementary materials.
I don’t recall my friendships before retirement including these elements. Mostly, friendship involved emails, phone calls and the occasional lunch out. Not that there is anything wrong with that. But we were often too busy for our friends, right? Retirement is an exciting time for friendships – a time to exercise our kindness muscle in more meaningful ways.
Some years ago, before I retired, I attended an advanced coaching training program and we all received feedback on our strengths and weaknesses. One of the trainers noted that I scored low on “playfulness” on one of my self-assessments. I wasn’t too thrilled to hear that but I had to admit that I was often way too serious. Now that I’m retired, I’m interested in developing those sides of my personality that make me feel happiest and most fulfilled. Do mindful people have fun? Or is it all meditation and self-reflection?
Despite misconceptions to the contrary, Buddhists know how to have a good time, but attempt to do so without attachment to thoughts or activities that separate them from the interconnected universe. So going to movies, or out to eat or to parties is fine for those of us trying to live a mindful life. But if we only criticize the movie, overeat at the lunch or get drunk at the party, we are giving in to our egos. Buddhist leaders such as the Dalai Lama are known for their great sense of humor and frequently tell jokes, laugh, and smile. With this in mind, I love thinking back to a breakfast meeting I had with two of my retired friends, Marian and Diane. We were working together on a volunteer project and for some reason, we were all a bit giggly at this meeting. Soon we were sharing our views of first dates after the age of 65 and our giggles turned to hysterics. In addition to having rip-roaring fun, having friends who can let go of conventional behavior in a way that does no harm is something very special. I intend to be this playful more often!
Piglet is a very wise little pig. Gratitude isn’t a goal or an action to put on your to-do list. Rather, gratitude is simply a way of being that changes the way you feel about those every day activities. I put up a selfie on my Facebook page not too long ago that brought comments from several of my old friends from my working days. They all noted that I looked happier and younger (!!!) Of course I was flattered but I started thinking about what might cause that change in my image. I remembered a trip to a craft fair where Deb and I were having a lot of fun and I was making it a point to tell many of the vendors how much I admired their skills or their wares. One woman followed me to another booth and gave me a free sample. Another vendor came from behind the booth to continue our conversation on the joys of raising sheep! After several of these interactions, Deb asked me why people talk to me so readily. My reply was, “I smile a lot.” I am finding in my retirement that it is easier to let go and just enjoy the moment. When I aim that enjoyment at others, the effect is amazing! We all want to be appreciated and valued. How easy it is to smile and show gratitude for people we encounter in our everyday lives. And it can make us happier and feel younger!
I want to share one last story about gratitude and friendship that occurred this week. As Jim became noticeably more ill, I worried more and more. He was reluctant to do anything beyond taking the antibiotics that didn’t seem to be helping him. In desperation, I posted a request on my facebook page for good thoughts and prayers to help Jim feel better. It just so happened that I added a new “friend” a day earlier – a former work colleague and his wife, Don and Dee, who also are preparing to retire and move to Ocean Pines. Dee, whom I know to be quite spiritual, replied to my facebook request that she was recuperating from pneumonia and that Jim’s symptoms sounded like hers. She begged me to demand a chest x-ray and to not take “no” as an answer from my husband. Well, to make a long story short, I did call Jim’s doctor to demand an x-ray and I told Jim that he had no choice anymore. Within a day, he was hospitalized with a severe form of pneumonia. When I expressed my gratitude to Dee for her advice, she responded with, “God works in mysterious ways.”
Hope you all have friendships that are empathic, kind, fun, and full of gratitude!