It seemed surreal, unbelievable. No more long hours on the commuter bus. No more increasingly tedious days at the office. No more office politics. After so many years of working multiple jobs -- a full-time job and two part-time jobs -- my time was my own.
It didn't really sink in at first. For the first few weeks as my husband and I packed up the last of our belongings and our three cats and headed for our new home in Arizona, it all seemed like a wonderful long vacation.
That first glorious spring and summer, as we spent long, languid afternoons in the community pool with our neighbors, was a dream come true.
Little by little, though, real life intervened. There were health problems. There were limitations -- as my cranky arthritic knees and feet balked at tap dancing. There were ups and downs. We went from being delighted by all our neighbors to caring deeply about some and actually disliking others -- just as in our previous neighborhood.
As time went on, I found there were people -- back at the office and among my California friends -- whom I missed very much. When I got an emergency call from a former patient who just needed some reassurance, I found that I missed -- at least for a moment -- the chance to help make a difference in other's lives.
There have been times when I've missed the convenience of Valencia -- with everything from great restaurants to movie theaters and shopping -- not more than five minutes away. And there have been times when, despite living in my absolute dream house, I've missed that little house that was home for 29 years with its green, tree-filled yard and the sound of the waterfall we named "Molly's Falls".
But most days I am filled with gratitude that we were able to retire at all. There are days I marvel at the spaciousness of our new home and the vastness of Arizona skies and the abundant sunshine. I love being part of a small community. Just this morning, as Bob and I were sawing and cleaning up a large tree limb that was torn from the tree in our front yard by a violent windstorm last night, workers from the Town of Florence drove by and abruptly stopped, offering help and loading the limb onto their truck. Larry, a neighbor from across the street, rushed over with his trash can to help pick up other debris blown into our yard. And our friend and neighbor Phyllis called while she was having kidney dialysis just to check on us and make sure all was well.
Life is quite different now. The exhausting grind that the last years of my working life had become is now a faint memory. And the dreamy, long vacation is over, too. What has replaced both is daily life in retirement. It's no longer a novelty. But it's always a joy.
I often think of Aunt Molly's retirement mantra that she used to say every morning when she woke up: "Today is mine!"
Today is mine, indeed. And with it comes opportunities to make a difference to others in new and different ways. With it comes the blessing of doing meaningful work and, at times, enjoying doing nothing at all.
At my third retirement anniversary, I find that I never take my new freedom for granted.
I still love waking up to my own internal clock instead of the insistent alarm. I still love planning days filled with work and fun and exercise and friendship. I thoroughly enjoy experiencing all the seasons of the year after so many years of leaving for work in the dark and arriving home in the dark.
I've learned to stop watching the clock as I talk with a loved one or pet one of my cats or read a book from cover to cover or immerse myself in music I love.
I've never stopped being grateful for the blessing of retirement and waking up each day to the reality that today is, indeed, mine.