The Opposite of Stress


I should be feeling no different from any other summer over the past quarter century when I wasn't teaching a class. Not having to resume academic life on August 15 has nothing in theory to do with how I feel on June 26. But in reality, it does.

The steady drip of days gone by marking the inevitable end of freedom for nine months has disappeared. Unlike a child, for whom the passage of time is so slow because each day is such a large fraction of his or her life, a man in his fifties can never quite grasp where the day has gone when it's over. Before this summer, I ended each day with pangs of regret that the end was so suddenly one day closer, and the remaining days so few.

Since the beginning of my retirement coincided with the usual start of summer vacation, this new reality didn't hit me strongly, either in a positive or negative sense. I believed early on that the new state would only begin to sink in when I received my first pension check (scheduled for later this week) and the fall semester began without me on or about August 15.

Yet there's something important going on even now. I'm disconnected from the daily flood of information from my former employer. Although I can and do still peek every couple of days at the emailed digest of spam funneled through their PR office, the more pernicious sort of information has stopped completely. These include requests for brief assistance with administrative matters even though you're not being paid a salary at that moment (the salary didn't kick in again until August 15); gossip; worried speculation about what upper and middle management are up to; and student advising queries that are usually tricky because students don't need help with the easy stuff.

As a result, like a volcano that's gone dormant, my own flare-ups of stress and aggravation have subsided. Problems in other aspects of my life still appear at the same rate, but I've been shrugging them off because they no longer seem part of a galactic conspiracy to never allow me a moment's true peace.

The passage of days no longer indicates the transience of summer, but of life itself. The denominator on the currently controlling fraction (days already gone by since retiring/total days of life left upon retiring) is unknown for a change, spurring reflection on the most important issues facing every human. Before, when that denominator was fixed and relatively small (90 or so), it meant that attention would be focused on the pettiest of levels. Now, no matter how large (or small) and how uncertain the denominator might be, the liberating reality that what lies beyond is not the end of a career but the passage to unknown realms has, at least for me, generated an immense calm. I recommend it highly to anyone in the position to risk it.

Not to worry -- it's a liberating message, not a warning

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