I had a conversation with a friend who had recently retired. He missed his work and he was bored with retirement. He found a part-time job in the same industry, but he had to drive two hours from his home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania to northern New Jersey. It is difficult to find meaning in our lives after retirement. How do I fill those hours when I normally go to work five days a week? Work fills many hours of our week, gives meaning and, if we are lucky, pays us a decent wage.
Retirement for me has not been as difficult as for my friend. For forty plus years of a productive work life, I spent only six years employed by another. As a self-employed performer, presenting school assembly programs, I organized my time around the school year. Summers were spent researching and creating new programs and selling them to schools. During the school months I was on the road performing. This rhythm of my work life lasted for more than thirty years.
I decided at the age of sixty-four to stop advertising my school assembly programs. This meant that my work started to disappear, but it happened over a period of five years. Unlike my friend who had to find part-time work, I created my own form of part-time by not promoting my school programs. This gave me time to begin to think about “my stories for the last third of life”. I imagined that these stories would appeal to an adult audience. My time creating and performing stories for children had ended.
Ten years have passed since the decision was made to put my energy into exploring a new stage in life. Have I found meaningful ways to use the extra time in my life? I think that I have. Shortly after the decision was made, my mother, Ruby, came to live with Nancy and me. From my interaction with Ruby one day, I discovered my first subject for adult stories: These are the stories from Carl Jung’s autobiography Memories Dreams, Reflections. Two adult performances grew out of this stimulus: Imagining the World of Carl Jung and Dancing with Daemons.
After Ruby’s death in 2011, I turned my energy to producing adult storytelling performances at the Mercer Museum here in my home town. Finally, in 2015, I decided it was time to create a memoir about my journey through life, to make some sense of the twists and turns along the way, to discover the meaning of it all. This memoir—Grandpa Jung’s Lessons for a Slow Reader—was published as an E-book last fall and is available on Amazon.
There is, for me, a relationship between time and meaning in life. I needed to find time to transition from Ray Gray, the children’s storyteller, to the old man who wonders about the process of ageing and eventually dying. This need for time to transition between stages in life did not begin in the last ten years of my life. I have had many transitions, some major and some minor. Here is a short list: high school athlete to Peace Corps Volunteer; Peace Corps Volunteer to divinity student; divinity student to steelworker; steelworker to oral storyteller for children; single to married, back to single and married again. I have forgotten perhaps the most critical, from being unconscious to being conscious. This happened at the age of six when I first thought about death. I remember thinking: Everyone dies; if you are going to do anything in this life, you only have a limited amount of time to do it!
One of the salient ideas from Carl Jung, which I discovered in his autobiography at the age of twenty-seven when I was divinity student, is about the relationship between time and meaning. Talking about his life, Jung says: “There was a daimon in me, and in the end its presence proved decisive. It overpowered me, and if I was at times ruthless it was because I was in the grip of the daimon. I could never stop at anything once attained. I had to hasten on, to catch up with my vision. Since my contemporaries, understandably, could not perceive my vision, they saw only a fool rushing ahead.” I have risked looking foolish to find meaning in my time on this earth.