Few years into retirement, Tim and I decided to pack up, sell our home of 35 years, and move out-of-state. People’s reactions varied. The most unexpected response came from our friend, Bob, who said our decision nudged him to act on a dream to buy a yacht and cruise down to the [Florida] Keys and up the Eastern seaboard. His wife, Jeanne, was reluctant, but the challenge beckoned her, and she got on board.
I recalled Tim and me camping, jeeping, and climbing with Bob and Jeanne in Iceland in the eighties. We decided to scale a 5,800 mountain, Kverkfjöll volcano, on the northeast end of Iceland’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull. The goal was to reach Kverkfjöll’s crater. My goal was to survive. My brother, Villi, sensing my apprehension, tied and connected a braided rope around our waists. “If you go down,” he told me, “I go with you.” Jumping across crevasses, a challenge he cherished and I found horrific, his words were of no help.
Another friend, Paul, climbing alongside me pointed out that newspaper headlines reporting on our descent into the abyss via crevasse wouldn’t be “Heroic Effort Thwarted” more likely “Unprepared, Another Foolish Tourist Killed.” I untied the rope and wished my fellow travelers good luck and was escorted back to base camp, Sigurðarskáli, where bread, butter, cheese, and hot coffee waited.
What is it that makes us step across invisible boundaries from the routine to the untried? To love cities you’ve never been to, landscapes you’ve never set eyes on, people you’ve never met, or accept a challenge that questions your sanity. What’s the difference between one day and day one?
Retirement can be an intersection, a fork-in-the-road moment where each prong represents a different decision. Of course, the longer we live, the fewer the tines. We go from dinner fork with four, to salad with three, and carving with two, until we may find ourselves holding a spoon. But while we have all or most of our prongs, we yearn for deeper texture and unfamiliar flavors, one more fish to fry, Finnan Haddie or Redfish, Yellow Tail or Doversole.
It took Ann and Bob Dingle five months to walk the Appalachian Trail. Robin Mangione and her husband sold their home in Arkansas for a 40-foot sailboat and life at sea. Cathy Florian’s email signature is Dance Like No One Is Watching! Her ballroom, square, tap and line dancing classes are popular in my community. Baby Boomers at Burbank Senior Artist Colony engage with like-minded spirits, painting, writing, acting, or singing in the Colony Choir. Retirees are climbing into the cabin of eighteen-wheelers experiencing first hand, “This land is your land, this land is my land. From the California to the New York island. From the Redwood Forest, to the gulf stream waters. This land was made for you and me.” Still, the sky isn’t full of stars for all of us to wish on the same one. Gene Turner and Jack Newton co-founded the Arizona Sky Village for amateur astronomers. Skip gazing and fly the skies? At Florida’s Spruce Creek Fly-In Community you can park your plane in your backyard.
So much to do. So little time. An ever-growing bucket list. You’ve heard it, “If you seek to do something you have never done, then you must do something you have never done.” At the end of life, you will regret what you didn’t do, “they” say. What “they” don’t mention is that moccasins come in many sizes.
My sister, Jórunn (in her seventies), is one of the most content people I know. She enjoys her daily routines, walking to the store, swimming, reading, having family over for dinner, doing crafts (knitting hats and mittens for children in Eastern Europe). Her small apartment’s kitchen window faces Hveragerdi’s (Iceland) elementary school playground. She attends church at Christmas and New Year’s Eve. She smiles quickly, speaks her mind, and laughs often. She grew into the life that was right for her. “Þú býrð til eigin hamingju og þú getur gert það þar sem þú ert.”
However, choosing a local life is not to be confused with remaining in a dissatisfying situation for fear of change, as in the devil you know is better than the one you don’t know. Our lifestyle is a conscious choice. It may be choosing travel over sitting on your patio reading or the other way around. What’s right for Paula doesn’t work for Pedra. Mary Pipher, author of Women Rowing North, Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age, writes, “We all have the ability at 55 or 70 to determine our happiness. Our friends can help us. Our resources can help us. But we have to realize at some point we are in charge of our own fate.”
The answer to how best to live life resides within— not revealed in another person’s opinion. A life well lived could include walking the Appalachian Trail, reading books, both, or neither. But the question we should ask ourselves: Is this “day one” of the life that’s right for me or do I keep dreaming of “one day” in the future?