Nowhere to go

Life is funny.  When we have to get up every day and go to work, when we’re tired and frustrated with our jobs or our co-workers or our bosses, all we canlonely2 think of is the day we can finally put it all behind us.  The day we can finally retire.  And then, once we are retired we often wish we were still working.  Still had somewhere to go every day.  Still had lots of people around us.  Still had a purpose.

Why am I bringing this up?  No, I’m not retired.  I don’t go to an office every day, but I still work.  As a freelance writer and strategic consultant, so this isn’t a story about my personal experience.

Today’s WordPress Daily Prompt is the trigger:  “The next time you’re in a public place — a coffeehouse, a park, a store — observe the people around you.  Pick a person, a couple, or a group, and imagine what their lives might be like.”

Well, wouldn’t you know I’m here, at my neighbourhood Starbucks.  My cleaning lady’s at my house today and if I don’t get out of there when she’s around, she gives me chores.  So I’m hiding out.  So of course I have to look around and see who’s here, don’t I?  

You would, wouldn’t you?

It’s the usual assortment.  Me and a cafe full of university students.  The University of Toronto campus is literally across the street so this Starbucks is always packed with students.  They’re usually here in packs, studying or working on assignments together.  For the most part they’re pale and look exhausted.  Not surprising.  Between classes, assignments, jobs and partying the hours they keep are atrocious.  Not much time for sleeping.

But I’m not going to talk about them today.

My ‘subject’ is a woman I see here all the time.  I’d say she’s probably somewhere between 68 and 73 years old.  Her hair (grey dyed away) is always ‘done’, she’s always got make-up on and she dresses casually, but well.  Her routine is always the same.  She comes in, and looks around for a place to sit.  Her preference is the harvest table, where I usually am.  She puts her book down so her place is reserved; and then she goes to the back to order her coffee.

When she comes back and sits down she always smiles at me.  If I’m writing she gets into her book.  If I’m taking a break she’ll often start a conversation.  Nothing serious.  Just a bit of chit-chat.

That’s how I found out she’s retired.  She worked in H.R. so she’s definitely a people person.  She’s a widow, has grown children and grandchildren, but they live out of town.  She lives somewhere in the neighbourhood, but I’m not sure exactly where.  Not in my apartment building, I know.  But there are two condos and another rental building here.  And a lot of homes.  So it could be anywhere within a few blocks radius.

I do think about her life, whenever I see her here.  Because I think she’s quite lonely.  Not in the literal sense, though.  She has mentioned friends in some of our conversations; and clearly she’s not a shut-in.  She’s able to get around.  From her clothes I can tell she’s not hurting financially, either.  She may not be a millionaire (although she might be), but she can certainly go out to restaurants and the theatre and do some traveling.

Having said all that, though, I still think she’s lonely.  I think she’s used to getting up every morning and having somewhere to go.  She’s used to working.  And being with people.  Talking to people.  Listening.  Helping.  Guiding.  I think ‘retirement’ is a difficult adjustment for her.  As, I think, it is for a lot of people.  I know it would be for me.

So how do I think she spends her days?

Bet you she still gets up at the same time she did when she worked.  By now it’s a habit.  She probably stopped needing an alarm clock years ago.  Then I think she does her hair and make up and dresses just as if she was going to the office.  Another habit that’s been ingrained.  After breakfast she comes to Starbucks, I think hoping to find someone with whom she can have a conversation.  Some kind of exchange, even if it doesn’t last long.  She brings the book along for company, in case she doesn’t spot a ‘contemporary’; or at least someone older than the average student.

When she leaves here my guess is, she goes back home where, at some point, she’ll have lunch.  It’s interesting because this is the only place in the neighbourhood where I see her.  I never see her walking on the street.  I never see her in any of the restaurants or pubs.  I never see her in the bank or the drugstore.  I never see her at the movie theatre that’s just a few blocks away.  Or any of the shops.  Or grocery stores.

Bizarre, isn’t it?

Of course we could be on totally different schedules.  But the writer in me has leapt to the conclusion Starbucks is her ‘main event’.  For her sake, I sure hope I’m wrong.

12 thoughts on “Nowhere to go

  1. I hope you are wrong too.

    I’ve been retired for 18 months now, and don’t miss work at all. If you are fortunate enough to have health and financial resources, and have just been given the gift of time, you can “write” the next chapters in your life story however you want. You just have to understand that it’s all up to you to make the story wonderful.

    • I completely agree with you. She certainly looks like she has the financial resources to enjoy her retirement years. Can’t speak to her health, obviously. But for sure she can do more than hang out in Starbucks every day looking for company. Sounds like you’re enjoying your retirement. Good for you!! :). Thanks for your comment.

  2. Perhaps Starbucks is just part of her routine. You do need a routine when you retire or you don’t get anything accomplished. Accomplishments, whatever they are, are what makes you not feel lonely.

  3. I hope you are wrong about the woman at Starbucks. It is a nice Starbucks and the light is beautiful and the energy is good, but hopefully she has more to look forward to than hanging out there.

    Retirement can be difficult for some people. It took my mom (a teacher) much longer to figure out how to be retired than my dad (an engineer). My mom actually worked part-time back at her old school for the first couple of years. I think she needed something to do in the mornings. A place to go, like your Starbucks acquaintance. Even now, she’s got her “schedule” with exercise classes, book club, etc. For her, I think it has less to do with people to talk to than having a routine. Routine gives her comfort. My dad is a putterer who likes to nap and golf. He doesn’t need a schedule, he just needs a tee time and he’s happy.

    • Yes, I agree. Having a routine definitely helps. I had to adjust when I first started freelancing — very different from having a full time job you go to every day.

      I think retirement is something you have to think very carefully about in advance. You really have to plan and decide how active, or inactive you want to be; and having something to do from day 1. Whether it’s courses, volunteering, taking care of grandkids, exercise classes, painting, whatever.

  4. Your first paragraph pulled me in, because I can relate completely. We humans are creatures of routine and habit, and when that’s missing we’re lost. I think every human being has a deep seated need to feel as though he is making a contribution to the world, and that’s reinforced when we get up with somewhere to go in the morning.

    In the summer of 2011 I made the decision to quit my teaching job so I could work fewer hours and be home for my kids in the mornings & afternoons. I started out thinking I would substitute teach, a great plan in theory: work when I want, nothing to bring home at night, and strict bell-to-bell work hours. But the lack of routine made me crazy. Some weeks I worked 5 days, other weeks I worked only one day, and sometimes a whole week would go by without receiving a single call. Now I work as a “lunch lady” for the school system, and this is the ideal mom job: 4 hours a day while the kids are at school, but best of all, I have somewhere to go every day.

    As always, great post!

    • Thanks; and thanks for commenting. I love the job you’ve ended up with. It does sound perfect. You have a sense of purpose (and some income) and you can be home for your kids. You clearly gave it a lot of thought and came up with the right solution for you and your family.

  5. Remaining engaged in life is how I like to describe “retirement”. In fact, I believe that word is due for retirement! Most people I know who are leaving their traditional jobs soon become just as busy taking on projects or developing interests for which there was previously no time. It can be an exciting and invigorating time of life for those who choose to make that happen!

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