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 can 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.