Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


"Pick a Fight" was the title of a recent college commencement address given by rock star Bono of U2 fame. Seemed like a strange title at first glance, but after a second thought... how fitting.  It may be an even more fitting title for a retirement project or attitude. We have time at our disposal and many of us no longer have to earn money to pay the rent, work to please the boss or provide for our children's education. We are free to devote all of our time and energy in whichever direction we choose. And we are free to offend. We can assist the afflicted and afflict the offensive.

This is Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery.

A friend of mine who has been retired four or five years and was happily devoting his retired days to enjoying every minute recently seems to have undergone a renaissance. He has taken on the cause of the homeless in his town and state. He has taken up the mantel for the disenfranchised. He goes to meetings. He makes phone calls. He writes letters. He pesters people who have the where-with-all to assist. He makes a difference.

Whenever I think of "picking a fight" I think of the work of Peter Benenson. He worked in London. One day while reading the paper on the Tube as he went to work he noticed a small article on an inside page. Two college students in Portugal had been sentenced to seven years in prison for proposing a toast to freedom. He couldn't get this out of his mind during the day - the injustice of people being imprisoned for such a basic right of free speech.

He took out an ad in the same paper. He reprinted a copy of the small article he had read and asked for anyone who senses the injustice of such imprisonment to sit down at their kitchen table and write a letter. They were to write whomever they could who they thought might bring pressure to stop this injustice.

Amnesty International was born of his efforts. Today, tens of thousands of people write letters and protest the injustice of human rights abuses across the world. Some prisoners have been freed, human rights abuses have stopped in some places, torture has been driven into the light of day where it has trouble surviving. Peter Benenson’s effort to take on this wrong grew into a movement and has produced very real results.

Amnesty was one of my first projects as I neared retirement. I helped organize the chapter in Anchorage and coordinated it for several years. When we moved to Bellingham I helped resurrect the local chapter and coordinated it for several years. It was a good experience of taking on international bullies.

One of my first retired projects was to help create of a farmers market. I got involved one dark winter night when two college students called. They had been told that I might be able to assist them. They wanted to create a farmers market but didn't have the foggiest idea of how to go about it. I didn't ether but I was willing to learn on the job. I knew that local farmers were always looking for a market where they could cut out the middle man and make their small farms a bit more profitable. I knew that town folks always loved getting local produce and that they enjoyed gathering in a public place with fellow citizens to talk, hear music, and share hopes and dreams.

Brenda and I worked on the project every working minute for about three months. In that time we went out into the fields and found farmers who wanted to participate, established a board of directors, elected officers, established a checking account and legal incorporating documents, found a location, planned the layout of the market, and obtained startup funds from the city council. We had plants growing in the field that drove the project at a high rate of speed. There was no slowing down or stopping once the seeds were in the ground. We established that date at our very first meeting. After that we just had to get our ducks in order.

Of course this was a project that was accomplished with the work of many. We had our loyal opposition in those who thought we were rushing into things - the loyal establishment. But other individuals and groups got involved. By opening day we were no longer officially connected with the project. They had hired a real director (I had been what we referred to as the "Acting Market Director"). The canopies were erected and the display tables overflowed with green produce. Music played. Eighteen years later and the market still brings thousands of people into the heart of downtown each Saturday during season. Same place, same time.

We moved on to other projects from organizing a John Denver Tribute Concert that would benefit a local environmental group to helping with parks, trails and greenways in the city and county. There seemed to an over preponderance of them established in some parts of town and other neighborhoods were noticeably starved. The distribution was skewed. With others we worked hard at seeing this difference corrected. Tens of millions of tax dollars were at stake. A more equitable distribution is now happening.

"Picking a fight" is not something our parents told us was a good thing to do. Perhaps we need to rethink this advice. Retirement might be the perfect time to look around and pick a fight with some bully. Lord knows, there are plenty of them around.

This is Retirement Talk.



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