Have you ever had one of those mornings that just seem to unfold with grace? That’s what last Sunday morning was like for me. I awoke to sunshine outside my bedroom window and, since we’ve mostly had cloudy, rainy days lately, the bright sky brought an immediate feeling of happiness to my spirit. Sunshine means that I can get out on my kayak for a paddle at some point in the day and that’s one of the things I most enjoy doing these days; combining great, aerobic, strength-training exercise with listening to music – sometimes thinking about that FWER mixed tape I need to make as I revel in the words and in the images the music brings to mind. Part of the joy in this whole kayak experience is that it enables me to stop and feel my way back to a time in life where principles were the bottom line more than profit or productivity, where the goal was to find a way to make a living in a way that honoured the need to live in harmony with principles, a way to be a part of a community of kindred spirits, a way to contribute to building something better. Mea culpa; I was once an early fringe hippie; more about that later.
Meanwhile, back to Sunday morning. Sunshine. Imagining myself on the water with skin baking in the heat. David brings me a latte before heading out for his Sunday morning run with “the group”. I have the Sunday New York Times already sitting beside me on the bed (yes, I know that raises yet another elitist image; that’s another issue I will definitely talk about soon as it does plague me). The first thing that caught my mind was the headline: Literacy Debate: Online, RU Really Reading? Two and a half pages of well-researched, well thought-through commentary and I had to run to my computer and send my literacy colleagues the link to the article.
The next article I read was about a kosher food plant in Iowa where it seems there were lots of illegal immigrants working at below minimum wage and being threatened with notification to immigration if they complained about outrageously long hours, no breaks, and an assortment of other abuses. Among other concerns that this article raised for me, including wondering why there was such an emphasis in the article on the Jewish background of the plant owners, is wondering about who will deal with the fallout of the abuse that the workers have experienced.
The third article that captured my attention was an obituatory about Kathleen Kinkaid, a woman who was one of the founders of the utopian community of Twin Oaks; she was buried on July 4th … the same day that this blog was launched. She believed that we need to live in communities of care and support and turned that belief into an actual community of “gentle people, living according to egalitarian principles, sat around talking and listening to music together”. She wasn’t afraid to think outside of the box – as they say today – and she wasn’t afraid of change even though she acknowledged that there could be some pain in growth. She seemed to understand that people needed communities in which they could live and heal and thrive.
Sipping my second cup of coffee I then watched Sunday Morning on the CBC which had a snippet about Frank O’Dea, the co-founder of the Second Cup coffee chain. Mr. O’Dea, a victim of abuse as a child, was once was “a man adrift, unable to navigate beyond panhandling on the streets of Toronto as a homeless alcoholic with no goals beyond begging for enough money to buy a 99-cent bottle of wine.” It seems that O’Dea has never forgotten his days of destitution and makes it a priority to give back, and hearing that … the penny dropped, with ideas and ideals intersecting.
One of the luxuries of retirement, it seems to me, is that I can go back to doing something that’s been on the back burner for so many years as I focused on earning a living and making a life for myself and my children. Dreaming isn’t enough, but the exigencies of life have for so long overwhelmed the desire to really work for what I believe in. We need to take care of people who are marginalized and battered by society, from the workers at that Iowa plant who were abused by the work-place to the men and women we meet every day who have experienced abuse that has left them sad and broken. To help people recover and heal, we need communities of care (thank you Ms. Kinkade). To build communities of care, we need funding (Mr. O’Dea, are you reading this?).
All good things, they say, must end, and so it was with my morning of sipping coffee and reading the paper. I am left energized by the thought that one of the things that I could do in retirement is focus on the challenge of developing safe, caring communities in which people could rebuild lives and reclaim futures. I’m also left wondering how many other women have met the challenge for action in retirement and put their experience, wisdom, talents, skills and energy into projects that made a difference.
Please share any stories you have of women who inspire, women who saw the opportunity that retirement provides to really make a difference.
Meanwhile, I’m going to see if I can find some contact information for Frank O’Dea! If you’d like to work with me, just let me know!