Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 268 Ownership of Your Own Life

"If you're friends go and jump off a bridge I guess you would be right there with them." My Dad us to say this to me when I was a boy. He never accepted the idea that I should do something because other people were doing it. I had a friend in Alaska who use to boast about not playing stick ball in the New York City streets when he was a kid. "I never played it. He would say, "Why would I do that if everyone else was doing it. If I saw everybody going one direction I'd go the other way every time. I don't know why that was but I always did. I just wanted to be on my own."  And he has remained on his own. He is now in his eighties and never worked at a job. Not a real job. Not really.

This is Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery.

His refusal to go with the stickball kids reminds me of a trip we took to Greece many years ago. We were taking a class on Education and Drama at the American University in Athens.We traveled around Greece with our instructors and interpreter as part of the class .  Part of the traveling included visiting some of the Greek Islands.

Crete was on our itinerary. It was the place where Nikos Kazantzakis was buried. He wrote Zorba the Greek among other great books. I loved his stuff and had read them all. When we came to Crete he was in my mind.

When we got off the ship a bus stood ready to take us on a tour of the island. I'm sure it included stops at various curio shops. We came down the gang blank and turned away from the bus and walked down an empty dock and off into a small side street. We soon found a cab and I asked the driver if he knew of Kazantzakis. Both hands came off the wheel and he turned to face us and and exclaimed. "Ah, you know Kazantzakis! I must take you to his grave. It is the very best view in all of Crete. You must see it!"

He drove fast and talked even faster. We twisted and turned our way up a road to a cemetery that stood at the very top. He told us of all the people he had taken to this place and how so very many of them knelt and weep at the grave. We stepped into an empty parking lot.   

We entered the cemetery and saw a cross made out of what seemed to be drift wood sitting at the far edge. At the base was a flat slab of stone with an inscription. I couldn't read it as my Greek was nonexistent. I copied the letters and our interpreter later translated it for me, "I hope for nothing, I fear nothing, I am free".  Kazantzakis was a Christian communist. How is that for a mixed description. When he died the Greeks refused to allow him burial on the mainland because of his communist connections.

Regardless his beliefs he could certainly tell a tale. It was a beautiful moment that remains fresh in my mind. And it came about be not "jumping off the bridge because everyone else was".

A similar incident followed my time spent with the good Swami in Katmandu. After our sessions in the library and our "enlightenment" moment. He said that he wanted to show me his Katmandu. We then roaming to the part of the city where the untouchables lived. It was illegal to maintain a caste system but it existed non-the-less. We met and talked with people trying to break out. I bought a rug that was being woven by the untouchables as they were trying to develop a skill that would bring them an income.  Of course they were not suppose to be weaving. That was way beyond there station in life. But they were trying and I still have the rug today.

Other people in my monkey study class were visiting tourist spots and buying curious. They were so jealous of what I was seeing. One dark night he had me accompany him to a Hindu religious ceremony of just Sahdus and take photos. Then he had me give a lecture on American values at a hotel. All of this came from taking a different road. It really has made all the difference.

When the end nears and you ask the question; "Did I live as I wanted?" or "Did I do what I wanted in my retirement years?" it would sure be nice to be able to answer with a firm 'yes". It is a golden time when our children have grown and left home; our parents no longer have a deciding grip on our choices and we have seen our last teacher and our last boss. We come as close as we are going to get on this side of the grave to what Kazantzakis claimed in the last phrase on his tomb stone. "We are free". Best take advantage.

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