By Anne Wennhold
Some years back, while working as a photographer and audio visual specialist in the local hospital, I had a wonderful man who volunteered to help me with the audio visual equipment in my department. As a volunteer Carl did what I considered important but tedious work such as setting up and threading the 16 mm projectors for meetings or repairing tape recorders used by nurses to make audio notes on patient progress.
A retired truck driver, Carl was unremarkable in stature or appearance, and rather invisible in a crowd. But his presence was huge. He had a calmness about him that was as effective as laying a soothing hand on one’s shoulder when people or upsetting events interrupted the day.
As we became friends I was curious how someone could be so content with work I considered boring and menial with no prospect of advancement or creativity. And why did he seem to have no huge need for a more glamorous or “successful” retired lifestyle?
In talking with Carl I learned he and his wife had a very limited income and that Carl was on dialysis. There were no big retirement vacations possible, no new car, no travels to visit family, no money to venture into exciting activities. Yet there was a peace about Carl and a quiet pleasure in routines such as volunteering at the hospital or at his temple, or in perusing the library shelves for books.
“My goal is to serve,” he gently explained when I questioned what I thought was his lack of a more assertive lifestyle. “I want to serve where I am needed.” At the time it was a puzzling response to my question about a more visibly exciting retirement..
It took years to understand Carl’s impact on my life. Over the time we worked together he modeled the behavior of a Wise Elder in such a way that the idea of the glamorous retirement I thought I wanted eventually dropped away. I began instead to desire the sense of peace and purpose that Carl quietly modeled.
He died almost 20 years ago and I have been retired for 16. These last few years I have spent exploring ways to achieve the goal that Carl exemplified. The goal of service to others. For me it has been a journey profoundly surpassing the goal of a leisurely and indulgent lifestyle that my younger self, or the culture I live in, thinks it wants. Carl’s legacy was a message saying that it really doesn’t matter so much one’s financial condition, what one owns, where one travels, what one does in the later years of life…or even one’s health. What matters is the WHO one becomes.
And through his goal of providing service where needed, the Who Carl became was a person at peace with himself and with the world…a priceless legacy.
Anne Wennhold has co-guided many Choosing Conscious Elderhood retreats with Ron Pevny. She also offers Conscious Aging seminars and Mandala Drawing and Drum Making workshops in the New York City area, and facilitates several Shamanic Drum Circles. Anne may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 201-266-8473.