I often ask myself that question when I am sitting still for more than five minutes. There is a constant need to keep moving, to keep advancing toward an invisible mark on the journey of my life. Unexpected twists and turns, and retirement, have brought me here, to unfamiliar territory, an area that is sometimes frightening, sometimes comforting.
What now? There was no time for contemplating this thought provoking question just a heart beat ago. Nearly every hour, every minute of my day seemed to be filled with obligations. A career consumed forty hours or more a week. An aging parent in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease squeezed fragmented hours in between. A husband, pressured into retirement too soon, devoured the crumbs of my day that remained. Forget the household tasks that beckoned my name the moment I entered a room. If there were any seconds left, I filled them with volunteer commitments made in the weakness of a pressing moment.
In the dark of night, when all energies were spent and expectations fulfilled to the best of my ability, I’d search for the perfect companion to help me fulfill the passion that ached within me. A pen that could flow as fluidly as the thoughts in my mind brought the comfort of a lifelong friend. Whether in a poem or on the pages of a journal, unspoken truths spilled forth like ink from a toppled well.
In some ways, life was easier then. I knew my roles. I knew what was expected of me. There was no need to form a dream, to envision another way of life, to design a plan to fill the hours that ticked away like a time bomb ready to explode.
My life roles defined me. I was the supervisor, in charge of an office that never slowed. I was the care taker for a mother who needed my help. I was the experienced Girl Scout volunteer who facilitated classes and directed events. I assumed the matriarch role of the family for gatherings. I was whatever someone else needed me to be.
Sixty years of adjusting to the challenges of life have taught me to change the direction of my sails when the wind sends me into unchartered territory. Like a raging river, the course is often filled with obstacles and debris that cause me to detour around my original plan. Seldom does the route I map out take me directly to my destination. Decisions made by invisible forces send waves, like the wake of a passing boat, rocking my world and forcing me to reset the bearing of my course.
Congress devises a plan that ends careers. Nest eggs disappear as the economy falters. A stroke steals the last breath of a loved one. Progression alters the direction of an organization obscuring the role of a veteran supporter. The ripple spreads until the waters no longer settle with the original banks, all the while the heartbeat of the world continues around us as if nothing has changed.
Like a young pup freed from his leash, I feel a brief moment of ecstasy in being released from the restraints. There is no need to set the alarm for five o’clock, no need to unlock the office door and position myself to make the tough decisions, to keep the cog in motion. There is no mother to visit in a nursing home, to pay her bills or buy her goods, to worrying about every waking moment. A day holds twenty four hours again.
Just as quickly, a sense of abandonment settles in and darkens the sky like a threatening cloud. I am left with my pen and my discretionary thoughts.