I tried to work this out a bit on our morning walk. The morning after the day of the visit from three old friends. Why should such a visit be unsettling, indeed was it unsettling? Is this the right word? I suppose, in the sense, that it was not an ordinary day for us, it’s bound to encourage some kind of cognitive dissonance. A day intended presumably to be a pleasant one and indeed it was but that still had that undertone of discomfort, is that too strong a word? Maybe by the end of this blog I’ll know a bit more because at the moment, as is often the case, I have no clear idea of what the blog is going to be about. Retirement I its broadest sense I guess.
As I wrote in my last blog we were being paid a visit by an American chum who we had not seen for many years along with the English friends he’s staying with, who were on exchange with us way back in 78/79. That’s when all of us first met up. Sad to say, but quite predictably, they (that’s our English friends and the American chum and his wife who was not here because she hasn’t retired) have been far better at keeping in touch than we have. We’ve seen the English contingent (i.e. a couple) three times in the last seven months after not having seen them for twenty or so years. All timings are approximate. Now we’re all getting together. So I guess a question is, is there something about being retired that encourages, even demands, you catch up with old friends and leads to the consequences of that catch-up whatever they my be?
There’s the obvious explanation that, when you’re retired (as we all 5 are), you have more time to thumb through your old address book or more likely what’s left of your old memory, which is likely to be even more dog-eared than the address book, and ask yourself some version of the question – I wonder what happened to x/y/z? That’s fair enough but the additional question remains, why do I want to know what’s happening to them now or what they’ve made of themselves for the last twenty years since we last met? Having thought about this I’m not sure I like the answer. I’m not sure there is an answer or at least one I am able to write about.
Maybe it’s something to do with the darker explanation, something to do with the jolly old sands of time running out. If I don’t make the effort now (and it is an effort for me although this geriatric socialising seems to come easily to some people and good on them) it will be too late. Time, or more accurately, the lack of it, is a great motivator, even for an anti-social old git like me. So why the unsettling tag? I suppose if you’re in constant contact with friends and you kinda grow old together, you know what’s happening with them and you can acclimatise gradually to any changes you or they might make. When you’ve not seen people for twenty years or even if they move away from your area when they retire and start a ‘new’ life, it can make you slightly nervous when life dictates you should hook up again.
You, the reader, has to understand, at this point, that I have no idea what I’m going to write next. I don’t even know if I can satisfactorily answer any of the questions I have posed or, more scarily, if I dare answer any of the questions. I mean when you get into the territory of – you want people to have done well but not too well, you are starting to reveal yourself as not a particularly nice sort of person and I don’t think I want to do that. If you went darker still and speculated before meeting up on what might be their physical and mental health situations and how that might compare with your own, well you really don’t want to go there.
Bloody hell, is all this occasioned by recent meetings up with old friends? I think the answer is no, not quite, the reunions simply allow me to stir the murky waters of my own feelings about retirement specifically and getting old (they serving the function of a mirror held up to myself) generally, and this blog has located itself in the writing as therapy category that I’ve referred to in past blogs. And in that sense writing this has helped me sort out a bit the unsettled feeling that I started out with and even being unsettled as it applies to the whole of my retirement experience. Seemingly no amount of Mrs Summerhouse reminding me how lucky we are (a message I accept entirely) quite removes that feeling that, again with the missing link, there must be something more to it than this.
Apropos nothing much, while we were all sitting in the pub after our second walk with the dogs, Mrs Summerhouse came in and told me she had just had a phone call from my cousin. Nothing remarkable in that you might think except he lives in Seattle and I haven’t been in touch with him for probably, yes, you’ve guessed it, the last twenty years. You don’t meet an American for a long time then, like a bus, two come long at once. My cousin, who I have always got on well with, is moving back to this country, coming home, as he put it. He was born in this country and emigrated and became an American citizen when he was about 12 but still regards England as home.
So when he arrives in September this will be another of those people with whom I have a lot of catching up to do. Needless to say I’ll keep you informed as to how this reunion goes and whether it unlocks any of my not so admirable emotions. What’s already weird is that at the family picnic as I gazed upon the multitudes that are Mrs Summerhouse’s clan, I thought, well, I do have relatives – cousins – but they’re a long way away – Hong Kong, Sydney and two (my cousin and his sister, another cousin) in Seattle and Portland, but yep, they’re an awful long way away. As of September at least one of them will be a lot closer. So it’s rare that I think of my cousin and I regret having lost touch, but a week ago I did, as above, and then a week later he’s on the phone. I might be wrong but retirement seems to bring some weird happenings in its wake, no wonder it’s an unsettling time, although I suspect there are other reasons as well. Gosh, that was all a bit jumbled but then it’s made-up blog not a psychological report and when I think about it retirement is a bit jumbled as well.