April 16, 2019

The days are finally warming up and drying out. There’s an occasional rain storm, not amounting to much, that helps remove the deeper snow banks, but really doesn’t add to the mud. I can dress in a lighter jacket and no longer have to brace myself against the hard, low temperatures of winter. The tree-skeletons have little bumps on their branches that will soon become buds and then leaves. The grass around commercial buildings and homes, still yellow and brown, will green soon, and then require some poor soul to cut it. But not me – I’m retired. The air no longer has that naked freshness that follows a good cleansing by a big snowstorm, but it doesn’t yet have the fecund fullness of new-life spring. There are, though, more varied, and not yet fetid, suggestive aromas that waft their way to my nostrils and hint that spring will soon be sprung. Waldo and his nuclear grade olfactory organ must be inundated with new and interesting smells. He certainly spends a lot of time sniffing around.

I wonder what a life never full of desires for the future, responsibilities of the present, or regrets of the past might be like. Waldo’s never had a job, never had to be more than spontaneous, never been on a time clock other than that of his bodily needs. Is he close to what I’m trying to picture, but struggling with because most of my life was filled with those things? And this lack of artificial satiety isn’t impossible for people, either. Hunter gatherer societies, even today, aren’t employed by someone else, are driven by their internal diurnal biology, and don’t even have the concept of ownership.

You see, the thing is, most of those things I filled my life with in the past are now gone in retirement. When I was younger, if I moved on from a job, I always had my mind set on another. Not so anymore. I will not be looking for another career, buying a new house, a new car, getting married, having more kids – I will not be looking to fill my life with all the things I filled it with during my earlier years. Retirement is fundamentally different and requires a new direction, new motivations, new incentives. The future has become so much more finite – the inevitable end point so much nearer and no longer ignorable. All those things that used to be in my life and filled most of what my life was, are now gone. Retirement has left a partial, but significant, hole.

I need to put something in there because to do otherwise could lead to drowning in emptiness. I do still have goals – I have a second novel I want to finish and a collection of short stories about the homeless. I want to enjoy time with my children and grandchildren. But these goals are not designed to project me into an open-ended future – because of that, it could be so easy to feel that they were pointless. What do I gain by publishing, for example, if I’m just going to die? Loneliness and feelings of isolation and exile from what life used to be all about would follow and could lead to a desperate depression born from a fear that all that’s left is waiting around to take the final plunge into the ultimate emptiness. Anger, too, can rise up from the frustration of not being able to continue ad infinitum with the life I had and the helplessness of not being able to do anything to change the final outcome. I don’t feel any of these things, but I’ve seen it happen to others.

Fortunately, I have a plan. I have Waldo.

That choice was born of genius. I watch him as we move down our path, me on one end of the leash, he on the other. He trots along, turning this way and that. Hearing something, he stops, tilts his head as he tries to figure out what made the sound and if it’s chaseable. He lifts his nose, snorts the air, then dashes on, looking for the next thing to grab his attention. I can hear nothing unusual, I see nothing noteworthy, I can’t smell very much at all (compared to Waldo) and our surroundings seem very ordinary. Waldo, on the other hand, sees this world as new and fresh and magical. It’s my guess he’s very happy just being outside. His glee is contagious and it warms my soul.

Sharing these moments with Waldo fills my void with joy.

EVERYTHING needs a good sniff.

Leave a Reply