A week for getting to know young talent. First, there were the new, young colleagues, bubbling with enthusiasm, seeing opportunities where others would see challenges and barriers. Then the young students breathing science, pondering over how to test various hypotheses that they come up with. And young musical talent too: Nino Gvetadze playing Schubert’s Moment Musical in A flat major (D 780 no. 2) with such a silky touch that her hands seemed to move over the piano keys without touching and yet gave such melodic colour to the music.Finally Veerle Sanders (soprano) and Rubèn Plantinga (baritone) from Opera Zuid, entertaining us at a dîner des jeunes talents, singing Schubert among others too. What an exciting future for these people!
And in between, “how do you feel about your retirement?” came the question. That took me aback momentarily, causing me to hesitate. Initially, I did not like the idea at all: the thought of ‘giving up’ was wrenching. It’s as though you are losing part of your identity. You identify yourself through your work, through your interaction with colleagues, with students, with the work community, and then … that will all go.
How do I see it? Well, somewhat like culture shock, but in a way the diametrical opposite. At least for me. The initial reaction was not the enthusiasm of the newcomer to a new culture where everything seems exciting, interesting, and novel. Rather the thought of retirement is gut-wrenching: I could see myself as losing a part of myself, of being disharmonized, of feeling side-lined. So the initial reaction is the descent into the abyss – well, ok, yes, I’m exaggerating, sure – but it’s not pleasant.
Other people, especially those who ‘enjoyed’ an unsatisfying, soul-destroying job, presumably look at retirement differently, a relief from the tedium, from the erstwhile slow destruction of their identity. They can look forward to reconstituting themselves in retirement. But people who have had an enjoyable job, even a creative job, when they have to ‘take’ retirement, or rather ‘given’ retirement, they have to reconstruct themselves, but at the same time jettison what made them who they are.
But then after a while I begin to come to terms with retirement – and to be honest, I’ve been making plans for over a year. In contrast to the culture newcomer who then experiences deep shock at how the new culture throws up intangible barriers and unfathomable peculiarities – the newcomer finds it increasingly difficult to adjust, the mental framework isn’t there – in my case the retirement culture begins to become less of a negative. Yes, it’s a question of building a new identity. I realized it brutally the other day when I handed out my visiting card: “Oh, thanks, I don’t have cards,” he responded, “I’m retired.” The card is your work identity: you don’t need it if you don’t have work. You only need to be yourself.
So I’ve now reached the stage of coming to terms with the fact of retirement. In Piagetian terms, I’m beginning to assimilate it, but I haven’t yet accommodated to it. I need to generate the enthusiasm of the young; retirement has to be an opportunity. An opportunity to create identity.