I thought I knew what was ahead. I thought I had an accurate picture of life after our jobs were only a memory, after we left Los Angeles for a new life in rural Arizona.
Five years later, life isn't exactly as I imagined then. There have been surprises, disappointments and delightful discoveries.
Five years ago, retirement life, vigor, money, fun and new friendships seemed unlimited. Now, though life is good, connections warm, health enduring and bank account solid, our limitations, both immediate and long-term, are more apparent. We've become more cautious, less expansive, more content with living simply day to day. Meals out, movies, plays, and travel are all rare treats rather than daily reality. And we're not feeling deprived. It doesn't take much to make us happy these days.
Five years ago, we were thrilled at the prospect of living in a resort community. Now I can see it as a mixed blessing -- with increasingly crowded facilities during the winter season when the population here nearly doubles due to the return of the snowbirds from the upper Midwest and Canada. I can also feel the small resentments and uneasy differences between the often more affluent residents who have multiple homes and those of us who live here year around - while realizing that the snowbirds pay dues here 12 months a year, helping to support the amenities that we get to enjoy full-time.
Five years ago, I had visions of reclaiming a bit of youth -- getting skinny and fit, dancing through my days. Now I realize that fitness at 70 doesn't mean reclaiming the weight and body shape of my 25-year-old self and that revisiting youth can mean, at times, reliving junior high with cliques and packs of aging mean girls. But good health, mobility and intellectual vigor are a joy -- even if I can't revisit my passions for ballet and tap, even if I'm lighter and firmer though still undeniably matronly.
Five years ago, I was thrilled at the prospect of having time to fully re-ignite my neglected writing career. I wanted to publish at least one more book -- and I have. But the best part of getting back to writing has been something I couldn't have imagined five years ago: this blog and some treasured blogging friends who are bringing so much unexpected joy to my life.
Five years ago, I worried about losing long-time friendships by moving away while also anticipating close new friendships in a new home town. Now, I'm delighted with the resilience of old friendships, relationships that have grown through the challenges of distance and time, and a bit disappointed with the difficulty in making new friends here.
Five years ago, I was excited about the prospect of small town living -- where people knew each other and one had a sense of belonging. And, indeed, that has been part of our new reality in many ways -- from Jasper and Barb at the Florence Library who know our reading tastes and set aside titles they know we would enjoy, the local pharmacist Michelle, who cheerfully greets us by name, the supermarket checkers Sandy and Arlene who ask about our kitten Ollie's recovery from his recent surgeries. But there is a darker side as well to small town life: learning more about people than perhaps you ever wanted to know and malicious gossip that can erode one's sense of belonging. There is, at times, a nagging feeling that, try as one might, one may never really fit in.
Five years ago, I anticipated life being quite different in a new home and a new place. The new house is great. But there is a lot of truth to that saying "Wherever you go, there you are!" We still enjoy the same pursuits, battle the same demons and live semi-reclusively here -- very much as we did in our previous home.
Five years ago, I looked forward to settling in happily with our animal companions Gus, Maggie and Marina for many years to come. I had no idea that five years later, only Maggie would still be alive. Despite the loss of young Marina and elderly Gus and fact that no animal ever replaces another, I treasure the additions to our feline family -- the truculent but loyal Sweet Pea who joined our family in the summer of 2010, gorgeous and loving Hamish who came two years later, and precious little Ollie, our three-legged kitten with a brave heart and magnificent purr, who won my heart last October at a book signing event in California.
Five years ago, I didn't realize how much pleasure I would feel in watching, savoring and, in a variety of ways, sharing in the lives of our younger friends -- Ryan, Mary Kate and Eliza, Carrie and Brian, Sharon and Virginia -- as they reach their prime years. It's wonderful to see them succeeding in their chosen fields, finding special people to love and, in Eliza's case, becoming the loving mother of two beautiful baby girls in a span of 15 months. But the greatest joy of all is in seeing these young people grow from being our dear friends' babies (in Ryan's case, a bright, quirky nine-year-old Little Brother) into good, caring, responsible adults -- people we're proud to know.
Five years ago, time seemed infinite. Now there is a new sense of limits as I watch those close to me deal with life-threatening health issues. My sister Tai, ten years younger than I, is suddenly facing a dangerous medical crisis. My friends Pat and Joe, who are my age, both are facing unexpected medical challenges. I see warning signs in others: my neighbor Phyllis, my long-time literary agent Susan, my beloved cousin Caron -- all five to seven years older than I am, all previously vigorous, all suddenly fragile. I grieve their loss of health and vitality while anticipating my own decline. I hope that these challenges are some years off for me. But I know, with new clarity, that the blessing of good health is not forever.
There is an upside to bittersweet realizations: I treasure each moment more.
I am realizing that, as the song goes, the best of times is now. I have better health, more money, and more options today than I am likely to have later on. I want to make the most of the next five years because there are no guarantees. Five years ago, retirement fun seemed open-ended. Now I feel the limits more than ever as I live each treasured day with gratitude and love.