Retirement. It’s an interesting word. “Let’s retire to the drawing room.” “This is a retired racehorse.” “I am retiring after 30 years in……” “I am retired.” It seems odd to say those words. After 30 years in a schoolhouse and 34 years in education, to say “I am retired” still feels, well, early. After all, I am still in my 50s. Does that mean, this is it? It’s all over?
The Online Etymology Dictionary (https://www.etymonline.com/) states that “retire” comes from the “French retirer ‘to withdraw (something),’ from re- ‘back’ (see re-) + Old French tirer ‘to draw’. Related: Retired; retiring. The sense of ‘leave one’s business or occupation’ is by 1660s. The meaning ‘to leave company and go to bed’ is from 1660s. Transitive sense is from 1540s, originally ‘withdraw, lead back’ (troops, etc.); meaning ‘to remove from active service’ is from 1680s. Baseball sense of ‘to put out’ (a batter or team) is recorded by 1874.” It’s a word that has been with us for many centuries that seems to suggest that “to retire” is an ending.
The retired racehorse may find retirement to be anything but an ending. They may still be “working” just in a different venue. They may find themselves on a breeding farm or being retrained for another sport such as polo or show jumping. Or, they may be living out their life on a sanctuary farm.
It is the “retiring to the drawing room” that is interesting to me. To retire to the drawing room sounds relaxing, even luxurious. It’s barely a transition from one location to another. It signals a downshift in energy. And, yet, it implies that there is more to come. The meal has ended but the festivities continue.
When my dad retired it wasn’t joyous. It wasn’t relaxing. It was an ending. He was 56 years old. He felt that he had to find another job, I was graduating from college the next year and my sister would soon be starting. He never did find another job but it was a lack of commitment to that endeavor, lack of will, not opportunity. I saw him slip into a depressive state, and then a series of illnesses. I am not sure if he experienced much joy during that time. Six years later he was suffering from multiple illnesses. Four years after that he passed away.
For me, retirement came on 1 January 2023 without fanfare or celebration. It was slow, quiet, even solemn. When I take a shower, I use one of my body scrubs and I say, “wash away that which is not mine.” This is what the transition to retirement felt like for me. Stripping away all that I carried for all those years. The care, concern, commitment, passion but also the systemic toxicity, fear based compliance, hierarchical intolerance for others success and knowledge. Stepping away from a place that I love, and into the unknown. Retirement felt like a beginning. An emergence. I am learning to say I am retired with the same energy of the drawing room. Relaxed. Less stressed. With anticipation, may be even expectation, that there is more to come. I am here at this time to be an educator. It’s my purpose. That will not stop just because I have retired from a school system.
Rites of passage mark milestones in life. Some are religious – baptism, communion; some are secular – graduation, driver’s license. All contain a point of liminality, that place where the transition occurs; the old is behind and the new has yet to emerge. In that space there is an opportunity to reflect on what has been and what will be. Liminal spaces are magical spaces, full of juiciness. Its where my creativity and confidence lives. As such, it is important to honor and recognize my retirement as one of these life milestones.
Things of the hand, head, and heart – rituals, place, stories, the Earth are my foundations for this year as I process this milestone. In Waldorf schools there is a focus on the head, hand, and heart as the three processes to tap into in order to enliven learning, independence, and human-ness. (See, The Foundations of Human Experience and other writings by Rudolph Steiner). Think of the head as intellect, the heart as emotion, and the hands as will . By digging deep into those things that ground me and support me, I can relax and breathe into what is and move energy to what is becoming.
I am learning to embroidery. I remember learning a little bit about embroidery when I was a young girl. It didn’t spark my interest at the time. I can remember my mother embroidering and then one day she no longer did. My great grandmother’s people were Kashubians who migrated to Danube Swabia in the mid-19th century and then to the United States in the early 20th century. Kashubians are neither German nor Polish. “Historians and linguists have argued amongst themselves as to the origin of the Kashubians. But they agree that for over 1,500 years, the Kashubs have lived along the shore of the Baltic Sea. Their traditional occupations were fishing and farming. Today most Kashubians live in Pomerania in the area bounded by Gdańsk in the north and Konarzyny in the south” (https://www.geni.com/projects/Kashubian-History-and-Culture-Kaszubi-Historia-i-Kultura-Kaszub%25C3%25B3w/16211)
My great grandmother’s knowledge of Kashubian culture and belief was never passed on, she passed away while all of her children were between the ages of 6 and 16. For me, learning about my Kashubian ancestry has been an opportunity to reinvigorate that knowledge. When I saw Kashubian embroidery I was captivated. It is a tradition that extends back to the 13th century. The designs are inspired by nature – pansies, cornflower, blue-bells, lilies, forget-me-nots – in both content and color. The colors symbolize the Baltic Sea, lakes and rivers, the sky, meadows, forests, the sun, love, and adversity. I am far way from being able to do anything as beautiful or as intricate as Kashubian embroidery. For now, it serves to inspire me as I learn. To see Kashubian embroidery, visit: https://originalhandicraft.org/en/kashubian-patterns/
If you are interested in learning to embroider, check out: Threaded by Tatum https://linktr.ee/threadedbytatum Her directions are clear, easy to follow, and she has all of the necessary supplies .
I have been delving into stories of shape shifting women, especially selkie stories. Selkie women are sea maidens who come ashore and remove their seal skins to reveal a human body. If the skins are captured by a human man, the selkie must live with him until her skin is returned to her. Only then can she return to the water. Sometimes selkies are vengeful after the return of their skin, sometimes they are supportive after their return to the water. My favorite story right now is The Selkie’s New Skin from If Women Rose Rooted by Sharon Blackie. I read it a number of years ago and keep coming back to it. In this story the Selkie woman provides an opening for her daughter to “if ever she should choose, she also could take to the sea.” Mother, teacher, wisdom holder, all contained in this Selkie woman.
I took my skin off when I moved off of Smith Island (see blog post https://acrunchylife.com/2021/01/04/earth-nature/). I moved from the wildness of an island and a life lived largely outdoors to an indoor, concrete work life in a male dominated, controlled, bureaucracy. A system built on obedience and fueled by sameness and conformity. Little by little it strangled me, restrained me, and I lost my wildness. Aspects of myself that I learned and mastered from male role models thrived in this environment. Traits. Expectations. Behaviors. And it worked, for thirty years. Little flare ups of independence and wildness, periods of burnout occurred, and I would recover to get back to the work at hand. Work of which I am so proud. I helped build something good and special that people believe in and are nurtured by, especially young people. Now, with retirement, I have been given my skin back. Released from that world. I am free. The aspects of myself that have been pushed down and controlled for so long are now able to roam freely. My creativity. My uniqueness. My connection to the Earth. I can return to the waters. The selkie stories provide a lens for me to navigate and consider this new reality.
Additional selkie stories:
- The Legend of Kópakonan from the Faroe Islands. https://old.visitfaroeislands.com/en/be-inspired/in-depth-articles/legend-of-kopakonan-(seal-woman)/
- The Secret of Ronan Inish. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0111112/?ref_=tt_mv_close
Tea is one of my most important daily rituals. As Ronald L. Grimes said, “Ritual practice is the activity of cultivating extraordinary ordinariness.” In tea, all of the elements are present – Earth (the herbs), Fire (the heat), Water (self-evident ), Air (the steam), Ether (the infusion) and the resulting infusion can be personalized to what one needs – energizing, healing, soothing, calming, etc.
My ritual begins with Step 1: I consider the herbs to use based upon what I need for the day, my intention, what I am endeavoring to manifest. What herb best supports that goal? This becomes the base of the tea. Then I add ingredients to compliment flavor or effect. Step 2: I thank the herbs when I have assembled them and I thank the water before setting it to boil. Step 3: While the tea is steeping I say words over it that are connected to my intention for the day. Step 4: I enjoy the tea. While I slowly drink my tea I also reflect on that intention. The tea I have been turning to these days is my Heart Warming Tea. Each of the ingredients is selected for its warming and heart supporting properties which I find I am in need of during this transition. According to The Herbrarium:
- Hawthorn – a general cardiac tonic that appears to improve the mechanics of the heart and its metabolic processes. Hawthorn is also calming and stress reducing, and is used to heal, open, and protect the heart.
- Rose – to open and fortify the heart.
- Cinnamon – Warming, carminative, anti-inflammatory.
Those who follow on the newsletter will receive the full recipe for the tea.
Share in the moments of my life on Instagram.
Looking for more? Join my monthly newsletter for more thoughts and resources for tapping into a simple, intentional life filled with Earth-based practices.