Rev. Bruce G. Epperly, PhD
For many years, I assigned Tuesdays with Morrie as a text in my first-year Theology class during my days as Protestant Chaplain for Georgetown University. At the beginning of their journeys, I wanted my students to reflect on the meaning of life, as taught by an aging professor, dying of ALS.
In one of Mitch Albom’s visits with his former professor, he asks Morrie Schwartz, “what is your perfect day?” He expected his dying professor to respond with something grand and exceptional. Instead, Morrie reflected, “I'd have a lovely breakfast: Sweet rolls and tea. Then a good swim. I'd ask my friends for lunch, a great lunch. You know, but... A salad or something simple. And then we'd take a walk in a park... with trees, so we could watch the birds. And we'd talk about how much we meant to each other. And for dinner, I'd take 'em to a place that had great pasta. Oh, boy. And a little duck. Yeah, I love duck. Do you like duck?... And then I would dance. Oh, I'd dance with my lovely partners... till I was exhausted. Then go home, and I'd have a great sleep.”
Initially, Albom was surprised at his professor’s response. It was so ordinary, so mundane. Then, he realized that a good life is lived one day at a time, doing ordinary things with great love and appreciation.
Each morning, I begin my predawn walk with the affirmation, “This is the day that God has made and I will rejoice and be glad in it,” reminding myself that this is the only day I have. I live in the Holy Here and Now, and this is a day to live fully and abundantly, regardless of life’s circumstances.
In retirement, I have come to realize that I have the opportunity to choose, in good measure, how I live each day. I have few “have to” activities. I still teach a class or two at the seminary and for the church I attend. Occasionally I preach and, of course, I write. I help the grands with homework or just hang out four afternoons a week and occasionally do childcare on the weekends. Beyond that, the contours of my schedule are primarily in my own hands: how my wife and I will spend the day, plan for a holiday, or participate in a volunteer activity. If I find myself feeling a little pressed for time, on the verge of stress, I remind myself, “You chose this, and can always alter your schedule.”
I realize that I am fortunate, thanks to the Pension Boards, Social Security, and TIAA, to be able to work only when I want to. And, I say thank you, when I see my pension deposit show up in my bank account each month. But, the real issue is: How do I want to live my life? What values will decide how I spend my time? What is my vision for the day ahead and the years ahead, remembering that a good life is lived one moment, hour, and day at a time?
When I was a pastor at my last congregation before retirement, South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Centerville (Cape Cod), Massachusetts, I often told my congregants that “I have a vision, not an agenda.” A vision is a pole star, a guide post, a path to be walked, with openness to novelty and changes in direction. In contrast, an agenda is something you have to do, and if you don’t meet the agenda, you have somehow failed.
I have come to realize that the “perfect day” is this day and within the limitations of my life are an array of possibilities. Paths to take, and ways to discard. For me, the perfect day is to be fully alive today. This morning, I rose well before sunrise, meditated, wrote for half an hour, and took a predawn walk. I came home to write and read a bit more, and then welcome my wife with coffee and a breakfast snack. I work on my class or bible study, take our dog on a walk and run around at the local “dog park,” and then after lunch, let the day unfold – a nap, another walk, a movie, time with the grands, a good mystery on television or in a book, dinner and conversation with my wife, a call or visit with a friend, planning for a trip. When I go to sleep I give thanks, and imagine the day to come, knowing the joy of simply waking up to the day that God has made!
What is your “perfect day?” It might be very different than mine. Visualizing how you might live abundantly and joyfully, and then putting it into practice, makes retirement meaningful and is the best antidote to boredom or meaninglessness. Opening to what you love to do, what your passion is, opens your day, awakens your creativity, and inspires your gratitude for this one glorious unrepeatable day – a perfect day lived with gratitude and love on this good earth.