February came and I was officially retired. I remember the absolute luxury of not awakening to an alarm at 5:20 am. Fearing the chasm of free time, I was soon flying to San Diego for my mother’s birthday. The following month I was off to Israel for a family Bat Mitzvah; and, without work looming, I could stay for several weeks. The days in Israel were filled with excursions and leisurely talks with friends and family from Haifa to Beersheba. My two grandchildren greeted me when I arrived home. In the back of my mind, I still wondered how I would spend time in a meaningful way. Playing with my grandchildren dispelled any worries that I would regret my decision.
I fell into a rhythm of travel to New Jersey to be with my friend. I learned dying didn’t mean the end of laughing and togetherness. It brought an intensity to our time together. We savored each moment and we both were grateful that her brain tumor did not affect her memory, but, instead, limited her levels of anxiety. We had planned to travel to Greece together and, for another year, we were able to keep the travel dream alive. Although it was clear an overseas adventure was impossible, we did manage a trip to Sedona where the beauty surrounded us at every moment and we had unlimited talking time—we could review our pasts, revel in our children and grandchildren, and even talk about the future. My friend was a realist and I learned to talk and walk at her pace and keep my tears to myself.
Meanwhile, my sister left with her family for the Galapagos in June and then they were off to the Grand Caymans for the wedding of Vera's son. When Leslie returned home, she called and told me about meeting Alla and hearing of her adventure-filled life. With the waves rolling as they stood together in the Caribbean, Alla told Leslie, “we should write a book.” Leslie grabbed onto the idea and she was soon outlining the book that recounted the friendship between Alla and Vera, their mutual friend now ensconced in the Caymans. I tentatively asked if I could co-author this book with Leslie and she agreed.
Neither Leslie nor I had ever written a book. But, with our naïve hubris we decided, why not? We are both avid readers, we should be able to write as well. We’d talk to RD Zimmerman, Leslie’s fellow traveler to Russia and prolific author, and then we’d get started. RD was clear—publishing was not for the faint-hearted and interviewing friends and writing about them was a fool’s errand. But, if we were determined, his advice was to just start writing. Our topic was so rich that I never felt writer’s block. Instead, I frequently experienced writer’s flood—so much to convey, so much I wanted to write.With a partner, the flood waters could be dammed to allow a reasonable flow.
I joined the OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) Memoir Writing Group and my peers helped me hone my writing. As I listened to each of them read, I learned even more about the art of writing. Three professional editors provided expertise and helped us clarify, mold, and streamline our writing into book form. Each stage has been exhilarating. I have thought about how unreceptive I might have been in my younger years to hearing the critiques of others. At this stage of my life I felt hungry for the feedback.
As the book was taking shape, the JCC asked if I would co-facilitate an Art Lab. Sounds intriguing. My synagogue asked if I’d be willing to write a weekly column on food and the weekly portion of the Torah. Of course. How about committee work for the synagogue and for OLLI? No problem. Could I consult on a part-time basis for the Minnesota Humanities Center? With pleasure.
Retirement is the age of “yes I can!” Where do I see myself in ten years’ time? I know better than to predict, but I hope one "yes" will lead to another.