Rev. Bruce G. Epperly, PhD
As we grow older, we need to join passion with prudence. New possibilities emerge and so do novel pitfalls. The great “yes” of the future needs to be balanced by the counsel, “handle with care.” We need to be bold and inventive and careful about the next steps we take, both literally and figuratively. A seventy-year-old friend of ours sprained her ankle while putting on her pants one morning. Hopping on one foot as she attempted to pull up the second leg, she fell over, much to her pain and embarrassment. As Kate, my wife of nearly forty-four years, reflected on our friend’s mishap, she noted that “retirement is really the second leg of a good and hopefully long life.”
Kate is right. Most of us can count on two decades of retirement, and that’s time enough, if we are healthy, to deepen our spiritual lives and contribute to the wellbeing of our communities. As part of her own “second leg,” Kate, a retired pastor, decided to get involved in our community as a commissioner and chair of the Barnstable County, Massachusetts, Human Rights Commission and a member of the local chapters of No Place for Hate and Grandmothers Against Gun Violence. In response to the COVID pandemic, she was one of the primary facilitators of a program that provided 400 vaccinations for persons in underrepresented and undocumented communities. Now that we have returned to the Washington DC suburbs to be closer to family, she is involved in the local chapter of the NAACP and is seeking to expand her spiritual direction practice. Her “second leg” is filled with possibility and adventure.
Putting on the second leg involves living mindfully and with self-awareness. It involves awareness of your limitations as well as your possibilities, risks as well as rewards, and remembering that limitation – the concreteness of life – is the womb of possibility. It involves claiming our creative dependence on others as well as our impact on our relationships and community.
We can’t afford to be careless with our lives in retirement. Taking care doesn’t mean living small or anxiously. Care-filled living means taking responsibility for your emotional, intellectual, relational, and physical wellbeing so that you can make a difference in the world for decades rather than years. So, put on your second leg with care, and reach out to others for support, so you will “renew your strength, mount up with wings like eagles, run and not be weary, and walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31, author’s paraphrase)
As a spiritual practice for the “second leg,” after pausing for prayerful stillness, take some time to imagine or reimagine retirement as you ponder questions such: What do you visualize for your second leg? Who can you count on for companionship and support as you grow older? To whom might you reach out for mutual support? But, most importantly, what are the life-giving possibilities for creativity, service, and adventure that emerge from the realities of aging?
Creative Wisdom of the Universe, wake me up to the beauty of this good earth and the wonders of my life. Remind me to stay awake and be mindful of the wondrous possibilities as well as the risks of thoughtless living. In my awareness, let me reach out to others, grateful for my blessings and blessing others with my gifts. Amen.
(This piece is adapted from Bruce Epperly, 101 Soul Seeds for a Joyful Retirement, Anamchara Books, 2021.)