47: Retiree Sabbaticals

Chapter 47: Retiree Sabbaticals

Kaslo, B.C.    Sunday October 11, 2015

     While talking recently with an old friend I happened to mention that I had just returned from “a little getaway.” He immediately asked, “what did you get away from?” Deep question, that. Good question. And I had to laugh when I discovered that I had no good answer.

      As a retiree, with more enticing reading arriving this fall than there has been time to indulge, and with a forthcoming Canadian election producing in me mounting shivers of dismay and disbelief, my appetite for elsewhere had been growing more and more intense. A change of scene, to a remote place of fresh views, fresh air, and fresh activities seemed to promise restoration and renewal. It was not so much a getting away then, but rather more a getting to. In this case it was a question of leaving behind our inspiring local mountains and getting down to the sea. Down to an unfamiliar island. To a place that offered no telephone, no television, no knowing what might be found around the corner or on some serendipitous café menu.

     So it was a seaside sabbatical that I went on, or so it seems to me now. If “retirement” has been seen by some to be one permanent sabbatical, then I think we have underestimated the breadth of wisdom resonant in the word “sabbatical.” It seems to me that retirements too should have their sabbaticals, and this for most of the same reasons that mid-career academics should have them. It seems odd, somehow, that the unspoken understanding of how academic sabbaticals facilitate both mental health and productivity, is not generalized to the occupational situations of almost every other person. Particularly, to retirees.

     I now suspect that all healthy civilizations should facilitate sabbaticals for everyone, from every worthy activity. And each of us should probably plan for our own various built-in sabbaticals: i.e. sabbaticals from too much reading. From too much television. From too many communications of every sort. From all our habitual entertainments. Moreover, our sabbaticals should probably not be limited to a seventh day and a seventh year, but they should also be applied in some creative fashion to seventh weeks, seventh months, and seventh seasons. Restoration and renewal, mental health and mental productivity: these are apple-pie goals if ever there were any.

     You might imagine that what I am today calling a “sabbatical” is what has long been called a “vacation.” There is a difference however. The difference is that a “vacation” often refers simply to a stop, a rest, to vacating our home or office, i.e. “getting away.” But the “sabbaticals” I am talking about include a central component of challenge, of allowing the unpredictable and embracing the serendipitous. A vacation is a getaway. A sabbatical is a going-toward what is yet unmet.

     Recently, then, let’s just say I returned from a successful going-toward, one spent on a previously unfamiliar tidal inlet. It had its ups and downs, this sabbatical. But it sure felt healthy and productive. If only everyone could enjoy such sabbaticals. Wouldn’t that be a social blessing well worth our counting?

© J. Barnard Gilmore    Kaslo, British Columbia    October 2015

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