I took a relatively early retirement from my Pediatric practice of 35 years, leaving at age 60 after preparing several years for my family’s financial and my practice’s well- being. Plenty of planning. I knew that I would have more time to do expected things such as travel, sleep, go to the gym, nap, attend Shabbat services and Torah Study, sleep, do projects around the house, nap, do more studying, and sleep (I was sleep deprived for 40 years by my education and profession). Further, I envisioned the possibility to deeply engage in 2 of my primary hobbies, working on cars and engineering live sound at music performances. Remaining involved in medicine and health care reform, as I was throughout my career, was totally NOT in the picture.
Here it is, 3 years later. I did a few fun projects around the house, but have become stalled at undertaking the next two important, fun, but relatively daunting projects. I have not touched a car except to do what I absolutely had to do to maintain my and my wife’s cars (and not have to pay a mechanic!), not even once driving my hobby car (a purple 1992 Corvette). While I have gone to many concerts and plays, I haven’t done one iota of sound engineering, and have spent much less time listening to music than I had imagined.
However, consequent to my large social network and eclectic interests, I now find myself deeply consumed by doing medical ethics and policy work, assuming leadership of the Investment and Adult Ed Committees of my synagogue, and passionately doing Development and Finance work for the wonderful small school my kids went to many years ago, Frankford Friends School in Northeast Philadelphia. And, by the way, I regularly audit courses at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and am deeply involved in the evolution of the Reconstructionist Movement. I also am back to keeping up with medicine, even reading journals that I had no time to read when I practiced, to help support friends and family in their medical journeys.
My medical work, which I was adamant I wouldn’t get near after retirement, has resulted from being recruited by and working with JSPAN (the Jewish Social Policy Action Network) creating policy, such as support for federal funding of crucial Embryonic Stem Cell Research and support for the application of Fair Labor Standards to home health aides, policies that I then present to the appropriate political and government people, and policies that I now am attempting to build national coalitions around. I even went way beyond my pediatric professional experience, and with the help of Rabbi Address, organized a very successful symposium on “End of Life” medical and ethical decisions, which we videotaped and will be distributing throughout the area Jewish community as a resource. And the least plausible of activities- I actually worked with attorneys (my natural assumed enemies) and made the Jewish case for, and propelled, a sophisticated amicus brief to the Supreme Court in support of the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare). Never in my life, even up to the frenetic two month generation of this document, could I have imagined I would be working with lawyers crafting a Supreme Court brief! This, submitted with a few other small, like-minded organizations, was the only Jewish response to the most significant Supreme Court case since Voting Rights in the 60’s. The Jewish community was very involved in that earlier civil rights struggle, but to my chagrin, has not been very involved in the contemporary human rights issue of universal access to health care. I hope to change that.
While the involvement in financial and investment operations of institutions dear to me could have been predicted, my studies at the RRC have taken me to areas I never imagined existed. What in Tanach is truth, and what is myth? Does it matter? Maimonides actually being a modern, and actually comprehensible to me? What, and who, define the identity of an individual or a community? What might be a contemporary Jewish perspective that acknowledges the existence of an unknowable “Universal Truth” while still being a scientific rationalist? Being both a mystic and a rationalist without experiencing any dissonance? The study of the 3,500 year history of our Jewish civilization inevitably impels one to learn of all the other civilizations and ideologies Jews have interacted with. I finally understand some Greek philosophy! And as my studies have progressed to contemporary Jewish thought, Buddhism (and the connection goes both ways, if you look)!
So, where I am 3 years after I thought I would be working on cars and sound is absolutely fabulous, but was totally unpredictable when I decided to retire. I am often actually faced with volunteer work and study overload, often feeling the pressure of competing obligations (all of which I have voluntarily undertaken), even feeling some stress from all of it. However, I can usually control the scheduling of my time, or take a nap. And it is fabulous.
The lesson for me, assuming one is intellectually open to the world, is to not assume what you will be doing after you retire will be what you actually do. If you make yourself available, and consider doing implausible, but worthy, things, you can make a valuable contribution to society while having a wonderful time. This is not to say you shouldn’t pursue your long ignored passions and interests, but you can end up doing some things you probably would have done had you not had to earn a living before you retired, and because of the necessities of career, might never had imagined.