am delighted by the invitation to be with you on the occasion of your 20th anniversary. When Mr. Schreyer spoke to me about it, I promised him that I would do it -- and here I am!
My attitude towards creative retirement can be summed up in three words: I'm for it!
I don't know if you're aware of the fact that a certain retired moderator of the United Church of Canada once described the subject of retirement as putting on a new set of tires.
Whatever way we want to look at retirement, I think that adding the adjective "creative" to it makes a great deal of sense. When you also add up what the activities of this group have been over the last 20 years, I think we can pretty well assume that you're doing your part to make people whose primary life job is over feel that they have not only more to give – but also more to learn.
The other day, somebody I know quite well decided to retire from a very high-powered job. She'd had done many magnificent things in her 35-year career. When I called her to congratulate her on her new-found freedom, she happily confessed to looking forward to starting the day without feeling that everything would fall apart if she didn't get to the 7:30 a.m. meeting.
We also spoke about a common mentor at the CBC years ago – a marvellous dame who was one of the funniest people alive and also one of the most sensible. She'd tell us of how she dreamed of retiring and spending her days wrapped in a pink chenille bathrobe, lying on a sofa drinking Dubonnet, eating chocolates, talking on her pink telephone and watching day-time television. All of us were part of a high-powered team – I suppose you could have described us as second-wave feminists – and we laughed heartily, although each of us knew secretly that there was no way we were going to fit into that pattern. But it was a great joke after all.
Actually, on a day when your sciatica is acting up or your head is streaming with cold, you think how nice it would be if you didn't have to do this anymore. I think about it too. For about half a nano-second. Then I'm quite happy to proceed, box of Kleenex in hand and Orthotics inserted in my sensible shoes, to go forth and do what I was meant to do.
And this doing what one's meant to do is the very essence of one's life.
But the problem is that not everyone's choice of job leads them to becoming what they were meant to be. That is a separate search. And this is where an organization like yours has a special role in helping people. Particularly during the immediate and early years of retirement. For this is a time that many people need to reorganize themselves, to give priority to spiritual and intellectual needs, to provide the possibility for us to expand and improve our selves.
Hans Blumenfeld was an architect-planner who died just recently almost a centenarian. He lived in Toronto at one of the city's most interesting retirement homes. And he said in his autobiography, called "Life Begins at 65":
"I have chosen the title as a declaration of war against the absurd tendency to divide life into three boxes: a first, in which one learns but does not work; a second, when one works but does not learn; and a third, in which one neither works nor learns. This has not been the story of my life."
And I think that's what you would all say – that this is not the story of your life.
Retirement can be traumatic, especially for men of a certain generation, for whom the job was the uniform of life. Recent studies show that three out of ten retirees have a terrible problem with the transition from working life to retirement life. And one out of ten never get over it. Among very high-powered executives, the proportion is more likely to be four out of ten. Yet none of this has to do with money. It has to do with a lack of ability to conceive of life without that central job, without that uniform.
Men who have run huge corporations, banks, law firms and who are used to exercising control in a focussed and fixated way – they have led working lives which made it difficult for them to have developed other interests, others patterns of life, other ways of thinking. I say men, for up to now it has usually been them, though it won't be long before women start showing the same uni-directional tendencies as they climb the corporate ladder.
An organization like yours which can help them to re-shift their priorities. Help them to understand, for example, that in retirement you cannot expect volunteer organizations or charitable works to be run in the same way that you ran your executive committee or in the same way that you manipulated your Board of Directors. And for people who were not bosses but took orders from other people, punched in time-cards, worked an earned overtime, help them too to find out who they really are after so many years working for a living.
That is the challenge after a full working life in the standard workforce, whether it be people who were high-powered executives or people who were employees. It is necessary to learn that we are not the bodily equivalent of pay cheques, that our value is not in dollars alone.
The psychoanalyst Carl Jung said that after middle life you become the person you were meant to be. But he also said – and this too is important – that whatever you do not live out becomes your fate. Jung gave a great deal of attention to the fact that human beings need to know themselves and to become themselves. They need to become more than what other people require from them, whether through domestic relationships or through economic arrangements.
I've always suspected that women are better than men in the retirement phase of life. I'm not even sure what that term means for women who may have worked part-time, or may have been homemakers and had that diminished because the children have left. Nevertheless, it is my sense that women are able to handle retirement better than men. That is because women have spent more of their lives creatively juggling activities, especially if they worked. They are able to think about three or four things at the same time – shopping lists, the agenda for that meeting at 9:00, keeping an eye on a sale of winter coats, thinking of organizing an outing to the theatre. These things are very much in the domain of a woman's world, particularly a married, working woman's world. So when retirement time comes, the idea of pursuing different activities at once is not a huge leap for them. And hence the transition is not so traumatic.
Somebody once asked me whether the job I do was very pressured. I answered that since I started doing this particular job, I felt that I was living a life of a very high-powered man. As Governor General, I no longer have to shop for groceries, or make up menu plans, or organize the travel agent or the season's tickets for the symphony, or go to the dry cleaners. However, it's only temporary, and I know I can revert to my old habits very quickly.
Other studies of retirement tell us that people really need to have a proper balance in their lives between personal time, work time and volunteer time. Let's just look at the latter for a moment.
In Canada, we have almost 7 million people – a huge proportion of our population – who do some kind of volunteer activity. Clearly, many people want to use their energies and expertise to the benefit of deprived people or people who may need our help, but do not know how to ask for it.
I think that in retirement you must try to find out what it is that you can truly give to people. No one is so poor that they cannot give, or so rich that they cannot receive. I love that statement, because I think it's absolutely right on. We must learn how to give of ourselves and to truly give something which is not just money or authorization for a certain amount of the monthly pay cheque to be given to United Way.
This is especially interesting for those who are of retirement age. For as we grow older, we have a more complex view of the needs of others. Much of this has been learned from experience. We may be more acutely aware of the importance of dignity and hope in people's lives. And whether we can give something towards encouraging or restoring or somehow giving people that needed boost. We may also become more enraged against the injustices of the world as we get older, and become less tolerant about letting them happen. At least I would hope so.
Margaret Laurence, one of the great writers to come out of Manitoba said:
"It is my feeling that as we grow older we should become not less radical but more so. I do not, of course, mean this in any political-party sense, but rather in a willingness to struggle for those things in which we passionately believe. Social activism and the struggle for social justice are often thought of as the natural activities of the young but not of the middle-aged or the elderly. In fact, I don't think this was ever true."
I think that you do grow less tolerant of injustice as you grow older and more impatient with the slowness of change. After all, the longer you've been around, the more you have seen the lack of progress made in alleviating human suffering. That things like homelessness, poverty of children, abuse of women still continue, if not worsen.
Now an organization like yours offers people the possibility to learn new things, take courses, gain academic credentials. And that is all to the good in a cerebral way for one's development, especially if you haven't had the time in your working years to tackle such learning.
But developing academic background serves too as the means for addressing afresh some of the injustices or needs that you are trying to fill through your volunteer activities. If needs are apparent and compelling, then surely there must be something wrong out there in the society or in the social or economic system that is producing them. Backing up your volunteer work with strong arguments is no bad thing. Especially if it helps to right some of the wrongs that you've seen inflicted over the years, or to correct the flaws of history, or to prepare a younger generation for the future.
In the search for social justice, people like you, who have been through the economic cycle of work, can help to lead the way in understanding and articulating what is real, what is true, what is good. You've all had a good measure of years behind you; you've seen and heard and felt and learned a lot. You have the best background for making insights into life and society. All that is needed is the imagination and creation of "creative retirement" to bring this potential in reality, into the mainstream where it belongs.
The life of the mind and the creations of the imagination are perhaps the greatest reality. They are not something frivolous or something to be marginalized. The work of artists, craftsmen, musicians is to be valued. And perhaps in retirement one can aspire to this kind of work, and even some will be able to do well at it. Even if you can't do well at it, the nurturing of it is important. Because the nurturing of this kind of imaginative activity tells us what we are at our highest evolved state as human beings. And because it helps us to express what we in our own lives cannot express.
It isn't a question of simply exchanging a work life for a hobby. Hobbies are something you can do all your life and you can do them after you're retired. But they do not replace anything. They are simply something that you can do because you now have more time for doing it.
But it is only when something becomes a passion, that an activity has an intensity that it really has any true effect on our lives, and therefore on our health. To live life to the fullest – to burn out rather than rust out – is to live with passion. And it is that that should be nurtured at retirement. If any of that passion has been ignored or banked or not used and it never gets out, I'm convinced that this is what can make us ill and cause us mortal harm. Aristotle said: "Life not explored is a life not worth living." It is through passion that you explore your life.
Carolyn Heilbrun states it uncategorically in her book The Last Gift of Time. She says that the chosen "work [must] be difficult, concentrated, and that definite progress can be measured ... It should require strong effort and evidence of growing proficiency. There is nothing wrong with people ... dabbling ... but this defeats the purpose, which is ... to maintain a carefully directed intensity."
Let me explain this another way. The psychologist, Alice Miller, said that if parents imposed their wills and desires on their children, then this would spur their children to create a false personality, a false self. Inevitably, the result is a great deal of conflict between child and parent. Unless the child is very healthy and realizes the difference between their own thoughts and those of their parents, they will never be free of that imposition of personality. Take a person with those kinds of constrictions, put them into a workforce for 35 years where there are other constrictions, and you have somebody who can reach retirement without ever having become a person.
Simply put, we can go through life completely imposed upon by other people's wishes and projections. Only by having a passion of our own can we burn away that carapace. Only by that kind of passion can we learn to truly love life and therefore will ourselves to continue living.
I've made a wonderful discovery this last year of a Portugese writer named Jose Saramago. One of the great advantages of being Governor General is that you learn an enormous amount and there's an insatiable curiosity in me which just wants to learn more and more. With every State visitor I receive – and they average to about four or five a year – I try to read some of the literature from their country or to learn something about the music or the art of their country if their literary work has not been translated.
I received the President of Portugal about a year ago and decided to read the Nobel Prize winner for literature in 1998 – Saramago, the great Portugese writer. It opened a door for me, and I've now read half a dozen of his novels and look forward to meeting him hopefully. He's well into his eighties, but who knows, it may happen. A friend of mine has bought the film rights to one of his books – in fact, the only film rights that he's been willing to sell. And Saramago says: "Yes, love life, but do not trust it."
Loving life is like loving a person. You can't be guaranteed that you're going to be loved back in the exact same measure. You can't be guaranteed that it will always work out the way you want. You can't, in other words, trust it. The only thing that you can be guaranteed is the honesty of your own emotions and the way in which you want to place yourself in front of them.
My favourite verse from the Synoptic Gospel of St. Thomas expresses these thoughts so much more succinctly and powerfully. If you haven't read this Gospel, I highly recommend it. It got left out of the New Testament for all sorts of feuding reasons having to do with councils and discussions and quarrels. But it is a beautiful Gospel. And in it, St. Thomas says: "If you find out what is within you and you bring out what is within you, what is within you will save you. If you find out what is within you and you do not bring out what is within you, what is within you will destroy you."
What I'm leading up to here is that we can't contribute to life until we as individual human beings give our utmost of everything that we are. This will not be done by trailing around with us former glories, former titles, former relationships. What we need to become is real people.
And I think organizations which can help people start on that path – such as Creative Retirement – are excellent ones. You are asking people to try and bring out what is within them. And people do respond. Sometimes indirectly, sometimes a bit clumsily or self-consciously. But they do respond. And for twenty years now, you have been helping with that process. For that, you are to be congratulated more heartily and warmly. And I wish you decades more of service to come.
Thank you. Merci.