For much of our lives daily patterns are largely prescribed, allowing little leeway, limiting choices. Infants know nothing more than to sleep and eat. Soon it’s on to day care and pre-K, followed by years of formal schooling, often through college and beyond. Interspersed over the years are varying periods of leisure activity – sports, music, video games, social media, summer camps, etc. Then it’s endless workdays for those fortunate enough to find full-time employment. Add commuting and much of each day is fully taken up. This makes weekdays, holidays, vacations and Sunday social activities squeezed in, precious departures from the rigors of routine. Then add children to the mix and accept the reality that the range of unscripted activities become alarmingly narrow, your life’s calendar largely filled.
This is by way of introducing a recent discussion among some two dozen retired active seniors reflecting upon their current roles and choices of daily activities. Having once led lives tightly scheduled, what is it that fills their days now that they are free of most ongoing obligations? Predictably, the range of responses was extensive. Here, in no particular order, is what they offered to illustrate how they spend their time.
• They can, without guilt, sleep late (assuming they’re able to sleep). No alarm clocks; leisurely breakfasts; read the papers.
• Endless doctor appointments for all manner of aches, pains, infirmities, exams, check-ups, tests, therapies, medications. “Waiting” rooms take up time.
• Ah, the grandchildren. Pictures prized, shared and continually replenished. Skype, Facebook for instant access; birthdays celebrated; gifts given; babysitting essential. Both parents working. Also attendance at Little League baseball games, school plays, performances and dance recitals; unqualified love.
• Consider relocation to the Sun Belt or to wherever the children and grandchildren are living.
• Eating out. Cooking can become an unwelcome burden. Restaurants beckon, are leisurely, affordable. Eat your favorite foods or be venturesome. Conviviality and conversation over long lunches.
• Shopping can fill extended swaths of time. Even with “necessities” already acquired, there’s nothing like hunting down bargains, sorting through the latest gizmos and fashions, or simply navigating the aisles and racks along with other seekers. There’s no rush – and most every store accepts returns – no questions asked.
• In-home entertainment choices are virtually unlimited. TV, podcasts, You Tube, Netflix, Amazon, etc., etc. A vast storehouse of information and entertainment awaits. Binging permitted.
• Travel. So many places to experience. Tours make it comfortable and convenient. Not so easy if you’re single. Also destinations begin to look the same.
• Hobbies. Often mentioned, but few examples offered other than bird watching. Instead, some talk of ‘bingo and much discussion of bridge and Mah Jong.
• Concerts, theater, operas. Increasingly the preserve of seniors, with reportedly few younger folks in attendance.
• Volunteering. Numerous opportunities at local hospitals, blood banks, public schools, churches, nursing homes, etc. Tutoring, shopping for and driving the homebound.
• The most moving statements were from those attesting to the supreme satisfaction derived from helping others; selfless efforts toward making the lives of others less isolated and lonely and more comfortable. Some offer companionship, provide meals or telephone regularly to let them know they’ve not been forgotten.
Overall, the sense was that retirement and advancing years represent a challenge to fill large blanks of free time, to be useful, feel needed and to discover meaning and purpose when there’s no obvious script to follow. Advance preparation can only take you so far. The rest requires imagination, improvisation and a willingness to reach out and remain open to new paths and possibilities.