Opinion: Free time isn’t free

by Steve Harrison

There are days when I feel I need to retire from retirement. Most days I feel busier than I’ve ever been. I can’t say that my days are filled with rewarding, satisfying, or noteworthy activity, but I’m busy enough that I wonder how I ever had time for a real job.

Between checking in with my mother, probably more for my own peace of mind than hers, my once-a-week job at the Claremont Lewis Museum of Art and the various chores of running a house and keeping up with friends, the calendar fills up before Monday’s nightfall. Add to it various doctors’ appointments, more frequent as years pass, and I end up on Friday wondering where the week has gone.

Like Lady Grantham of Downton Abbey fame, once retired I’m led to wonder, “What’s a weekend?” It was one of the first things I missed once I was done teaching; Friday was no longer magical, full of relief and hope of what the weekend might bring. Same held for the month of December, when a two-week vacation would allow time to sleep in, then allowing time to ease into the day with a cup of coffee and the paper, time to visit friends and engage in all those traditions associated with the season. Now every day is a weekend or a vacation but usually without the magic or celebration. The everyday negates the uniqueness of well-earned rest.

I ask John, the husband, if we really have more to do or are just no longer good at juggling activities. When engaged by our work there were many put on the back burner: trips, non-urgent appointments, household chores, meetings with friends; our jobs and their commitments were most important.

I think it was in my forties when I realized life with 150 junior high students was much better if I got to bed early and limited my social engagements to one evening a-week. Our calendars — his, mine, and ours — revolved around school hours, and rarely did anything come before that commitment.

Now there is nothing quite like that to regulate or limit our time, and as a result nothing holds us back from making plans or adding to the calendar. I’m not complaining, well, maybe I am, but I am very aware that it is better to be busier than not. I’ve always been that way. Having a day when I don’t leave the house feels wrong. Feeling bored or at loose ends is uncomfortable. Balance, a condition I always desired but rarely achieved, has been hard for me to create even as I supposedly yearn for it. Free time doesn’t mean relaxation.

With little demanding my attention, my days fill up with the pest control people checking the attic for vermin, me sweeping the patio, checking out new plants at Lowe’s and Armstrong, visiting mom, taking my walk when it isn’t 100 degrees, and figuring out new ways to fill the calendar.

I’m currently obsessed with our brown lawn, a calamity of the intense drought and poor planning 20 years ago. I’ve gone to classes and researched plantings suitable for our clime and restrictions; and though I know I should probably wait until fall, I can’t rest with the dead look.

Currently, in near 100-degree heat, there is a crew digging up dead fauna, trimming the survivors, and preparing the empty for the next look. Compared to their work, my concerns are paltry, first world, and privileged.

Though I acknowledge the absurdity of my whine and the good fortune I have to fill my calendar with, for the most part, indulgent choices, my busyness and lack of balance still cause me to long for the good old days, filled with routine beyond my control.


Submit a Comment

Share This