By Ted Furlow
During the Christmas holidays, we visited my daughter in Medford, Oregon. I really went to see three of my grandchildren, and it was a wonderful trip, complete with snow and a white Christmas. One of the high points was taking the grandkids, Gabe, Katie and Annie, to breakfast at a local diner. The place was pinewood cozy, a little bit kitsch, a little bit old, and seriously Oregon.
They sat us at the far end of the room, so the predictable kid mayhem wouldn’t upset the “lumberjack special” crowd, and while I was refereeing a spontaneous game of table hockey using disposable creamer cups, and my wife was using a fist full of napkins like a mini Zamboni to keep the playing surface free of flying crème, I looked around the room to see the reactions. No one was paying attention to us. We had lucked out; we had hit the midmorning shift for breakfast and it was an AARP crowd. Everyone was at least my age or older, so they either didn’t care or simply couldn’t hear. Just as I took a blast of crème on my nose from a slap shot by Annie, it dawned on me that these seniors and I were just alike. They were retired, they used to be somebody, and now with an abundance of free time they are someone else.
As I write this, I am just over six months retired and still learning what it means. I used to be an administrator, someone listened to, someone with authority, and someone with credibility. Now I’m just a guy who gets to choose for himself what he is going to do each day. Like I said, I used to be somebody and now I’m someone else. Everyone told me that retirement would be a tough adjustment, and they were wrong. My most difficult task each day, aside from living with the smile on my face, is focusing on seeing life lived through a different lens. Perhaps like the folks at the restaurant, my lens has become one of peace, tolerance, and clarity.
These days I eat breakfast each morning in front of the bay window in our dinette. For years, I had kept the blinds closed on that window, and ate breakfast watching TV in the family room. Now I open them each morning and enjoy the view. I sit with my raisin bran, mug of tea, newspaper, and enjoy breakfast watching the world go up and down my street. That view was always there, I just never looked at it. I was too busy being somebody, getting ready to go to work, sitting at the computer, and talking on the phone, to take the time to enjoy the aesthetic intimacy of an unobstructed view that was right in front of me.
In these quieter days of my life, I often reflect about God as my horizon. I have looked toward that horizon all my life, but like looking out of the dinette window, I never had the unobstructed view of God that I have now. I used to believe that older people became religious late in life because they saw the end game coming, but in the spiritual intimacy of God’s wisdom, I understand now that He grants us a grace filled renewal of vision as our life changes, and recalibrates itself to a different pace.
Trying to be somebody, I was like the runner in Francis Thompson’s epic poem “The Hound of Heaven.” Filled with an urgency to be a husband, to be a father, to be important, and to be a success, I have often “fled God down my nights and down my days, fled him through the arches of my years, fled him down the labyrinthine ways of my life.” I was always aware of the sound of God’s strong feet that followed me with “unhurrying chase and unperturbed pace, deliberate speed, and majestic instancy.”
I intuitively knew that there was bound to be a reckoning, a cognition in time, when those footfalls would halt, and finally able to see what life had kept me from seeing, a grace would call me to rise, to take his hand and to understand without the interfering clutter of trying to be somebody, that He is what I seek.
I am someone else now, and I love being retired.
Ted Furlow retired as Director of Pastoral Planning in the Diocese of San Bernardino and continues in marriage preparation ministry in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.