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Commentary: With checks on track, now is time to ponder real purpose of retirement

The first pension check was nice, of course.

It meant the forms had been properly filled out.

More than that, it meant everybody involved in the process was in agreement that the proper forms had been filled out.

There would be no more:

1. Calling Party A to be told Party B was at fault.

2. Calling Party B to be told that Party A was at fault, and

3. Dialing Party C, which resolves conflicts between Part A and Party B, to hear that, due to heavy call volume, there is a 49-minute wait to speak with a representative who is powerless to help you.

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With all that behind us, my wife and I could devote ourselves to the major task of retirement: Strolling back and forth from the couch to the land line to check caller ID and confirm it is indeed a robocall.

But it was the second check - the one deposited in our account earlier this month - that made the bigger difference.

It seemed to confirm that the first had not been a fluke and led me to believe there’s a reasonable chance the next one will come.

It was a week or so after the arrival of deposit number two that a thought came to me, one that sounded good the first time I heard it in my head and then slightly better the first few times I said it aloud to friends:

“I no longer have to voluntarily do anything that will give me a headache or cause me to lose sleep if I don’t want to.”

My friends all responded in the way I’d hoped: With a laugh, smile or some other equivalent of a high five.

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But after raising my fingers like a Boy Scout, looking sincerely into my own eyes in the bathroom mirror and reciting the like the Boy Scout Oath, I had second thoughts.

It’s not that I’m going to sign up for headaches every day in the way some retirees go down to a social club and pony up for the 50-50 drawing. Nor will I set the alarm clock for 5:14 a.m. so I can go downstairs, have a small bowl of cereal and catch up on my reading.

My second thoughts about headache abstinence is connected to change of attitude that’s come over me fairly recently. It involves an appreciation for how many times headaches and sleepless nights have been part of situations that forced me to learn something and address problems that, once confronted, were more manageable afterwards.

It has made me consider whether headaches and sleeplessness could be growth pains.

With all this on my mind, another thing transpired that often occurs when I’m trying to figure something out: I ran into a person who had something to contribute to my thinking.

That happened a week ago Saturday at the Springfield Farmer’s Market and a cloudy but pleasantly coolish day.

With a coffee in my right hand and a spinach and cheese croissant in my left, I plopped down on a curb and next to a sewer grate across the street from where the musical group was performing.

Soon a good friend wandered by and was kind enough to tell me that when she first saw me on the curb next to the sewer, his wife thought I was a beggar.

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Although neither one of them was helpful to me in figuring out what was on my mind, I made a note to send a Christmas card this year.

It was at the other end of the same bricked street that I ran into my helpful friend. She said hey just after I’d made the executive decision to spend $2.50 to get six ears of corn rather than $2 for four.

I asked if she was still working, and she said no, which was a lie.

She actually is working in retirement, but as a volunteer grant writer trying to secure some money for a program to help children.

When I said she at least was avoiding the headaches of work, her face crinkled up in an expression that said, “Well, no, not really.”

A deadline was nearing, and it was time to get down to it.

But she said she doesn’t mind. She is still doing something she believes in, something that was worthwhile and at a time when the programs who serve kids need it.

Which made me think: Like a meaningful work life, a meaningful retirement may not involve avoiding headaches. It more likely means choosing the ones you think are worth having, saving coupons for headache remedies, and stocking up on used paperbacks for 5 a.m. reading.

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