A Year in the Life-January*: On the Last Gift of Time

We’re buried in snow here this weekend, but you know what? We don’t care. We’ve spent the past two snowy days sleeping in, drinking extra pots of coffee in front of the fire, watching birds come to the feeders in droves, reading books and watching movies on TV. 

Yes, I said WE because as of January 31, my husband is officially RETIRED. 

I know that word strikes fear in the hearts of many women, but so far we are managing quite well. I am much more mellow than I was even a few years ago, my expectations for being productive in a day have changed dramatically, and I’m enjoying the ability to be flexible with all the free time in my own schedule. 

Still, it’s obvious some adaptations will need to be made.  Jim is more of an afternoon-evening person, while I am definitely an early morning person. He likes to relax and take life slow, I like to be busy and get things done. He’s all details and logic, while I’m touchy-feely and sensitive.

But we’ll figure it out. We’ve been together for 45 years and are committed for the long haul. 


I am surprised by how happy my husband is since he’s not working. I knew he had been under a  strain at work for a few years, but I had no idea the toll it was taking on his emotional health. His entire demeanor has changed: not only is he is more light-hearted and thoughtful, he is more forgiving of the foibles of mankind in general. Less prone to frustration, less irritable, less depressed. I was re-reading The Last Gift of Time, Life Beyond Sixty, by Carolyn Heilburn, who had this to say about her retirement from Columbia University:

“I was shocked, almost from the moment I left Columbia, by how little I missed it, how relieved I was not to have to plunge, ever again, into that poisonous atmosphere. I had feared that I would miss the structure of teaching and the institutional base from which to make scholarly request. But I entered upon a life unimagined previously, of happiness impossible to youth or to the years of being constantly needed at home and at work. I entered into a period of freedom, and only past sixty learned in what freedom consists: to live without a constant, unnoticed stream of anger and resentment, without the daily contemplation of power always in the gads of the least worthy, the least imaginative, the least generous. Everyone I met commented on how well I looked, how relaxed, how glowing. I discovered retirement to be a gift especially suited to my sixties, when I could best relish its delicate flavor."

I do think there is something quite different about Life Beyond Sixty. I feel a deeper sense of wisdom, of self-knowledge, of certainty about what makes me happy and a determination to seek it out and indulge in it no matter the cost. I’m less willing to do something simply for the sake of doing it, or at the behest of others, preferring to tackle instead those things I know will be personally fulfilling or serve a greater good.  As Heilbrun writes, “Our sixties give us the chance to get out, not only from our job, but from much else we’ve been doing unquestioningly for a long time."

I think of this passage from Virginia Woolf’s novel, To The Lighthouse:

"For now she need not think about anybody. She could be herself, by herself. And that was what now she often felt the need of – to think; well, not even to think. To be silent; alone. All the being the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others. Although she continued to knit, and sat upright, it was thus that she felt herself; and this self having shed its attachments was free for the strangest adventures. When life sank down for a moment, the range of experience seemed limitless…Beneath it is all dark, it is all spreading, it is unfathomably deep; but now and again we rise to the surface and that is what you see us by. Her horizon seemed to her limitless."

In the meantime, I’ve been reading, both fiction and non-fiction. I’m working hard at reading more books and spending less time with social media. Right after Christmas I deleted Twitter from all my devices, and have not missed it one bit. I also removed the Facebook App from my phone. (It’s a challenge - I confess to being an inveterate FB scroller during any minute of downtime anywhere.) It’s part of a long-standing effort to wean myself away from the destructive addictive qualities of social media. 

I admit, there are times when the days seem rather long, as if I have too much time on my hands. In reality, time flies, and at almost 62 I realize just how fast the next decades of my life will speed past me. Time was on my mind a lot during the last month. Time is on everyone’s mind in January, the spacious beginning of a New Year with all the possibilities for good or evil it might hold. 

Miraculously, it’s almost as if Twitter’s disappearance from my life has opened a space in my psyche for something resembling hope. I say resembling, because I’ve been so long without that particular emotion I barely know how to recognize it.

But now, despite the January darkness and relentless gray skies, despite the bitter wind that whistles around the side of the house every morning whipping up a vortex of snow between the front door and the garage, despite mountains of sludge covered snow piled in every parking lot and on every corner, despite all this I wake up in the morning smiling and stretching like a contented cat by the fire. After all, I’m safe in my cozy house, my husband lies sleeping peacefully beside me, there is coffee to brew, books to read, fresh food to prepare. There are hours ahead of me most every day to fill however I desire.

Yes, there is still winter and cold, there is sadness and unrest in the world around me, but for now all that is on the surface and I can sink down into the depths of myself where, as Virgina Woolf writes in To the Lighthouse, “my horizon seems limitless.”

*This represents the first in a series called A Year in the Life, monthly posts recalling impressions, experiences, events, and things that crossed my mind during the 30 days just passed.