by John Colgan-Davis
Sept. 8 was the first day of school for both Philly public and private school students. Our house in Mt. Airy is a block away from a public elementary school, and the corner outside our house is a stop on the bus routes of two private elementary schools.
So when I got back from my morning walk today, I could both see and hear that combination of excitement, confusion, fear, nervousness and parental relief that always mark the start of a new school year.
It was a shock to have the high level of noise in the area after a summer of slow awakening mornings. The volume of kids’ voices and rumbling of idling buses took some getting used to, but over time I will get used to them because for the first time in 35+ years, I am not in school.
When I retired in June, many people said I wouldn’t really feel retired until that first day of school in September when kids were going back and I was at home; when the halls would be full of shouts and energy, I wouldn’t be experiencing it.
While I am not sure what “feeling retired” means, I did know this summer was not a usual one. I did not spend time thinking about what changes I would make in my classes or how I would incorporate some of the things I was experiencing into my curriculum.
I did have a few moments of seeing something in a museum and thinking of how I could present it to kids, but that was momentary. I was not planning for classes, and that felt somewhat freeing. Some folks may equate being retired with not doing much, but that definition didn’t work either.
Even when I was teaching, I also wrote, played music, hiked, birdwatched, traveled, camped and more. I am an active, high-energy person, so being retired to me has nothing to do with doing nothing.
I will have more time to do those things, and I have added one more: my wife organized friends who will spend time working in a public school library this school year helping teachers use the library.
We spent part of the summer cataloging, organizing and stocking the library, and this brought me back in touch with the joy of being in a library and thinking about the great things a library can bring to kids. I am really looking forward to doing that work this year.
What made me feel most like I was retired, though, was all of those personal infrastructure things a person my age has to do in order to lay the groundwork for the last third of his/her life.
Figuring out Medicare and Medicaid; long term care insurance; revising the will, etc. Doing those things this summer went a long way to making me feel truly retired. I know I have more behind me than I have in front of me, and I have known and accepted that for some time.
That is not negative for me. I’ve been aware of my own mortality for a long time, and I’m not afraid of death. But doing that basic preparation — wrestling with the forms and their arcane language and getting help and having to make real choices made my life status real in a way it hadn’t been before.
I’m used to going through life moving lightly for the most part. You try some things, revise if it doesn’t work and move on. But these things required a level of thought, planning and seriousness that was different for me.
And when I made some decisions and signed those forms, then I truly felt retired. It was as if I had taken a path through a forest to a clearing from where I could see new paths and roads and rivers to try.
So the first day of school found me wishing those kids I saw well and sending good thoughts to my former colleagues and students. I hope their year is a good one and that the joy and great feeling I was privileged to have for much of my teaching career can be real for them also.
And I am looking forward to playing more music, traveling and birding more, working in the library and having new adventures and encounters with the world. As a friend of mine said about being retired, “Now I can have a full life and not just a busy one.”
I am retired.
In addition to being a former teacher, long-time Mt. Airy resident John Colgan-Davis is the harmonica player for the popular rockin’ blues band, the Dukes of Destiny.