Always Too Early for a Stagnant Retirement

It’s heartbreaking when someone has given up on life. To me, it is the equivalent of being dead before you have stopped living.

As part of a family who is contemplating a move to the United States, there are certain items of discussion on the table. One of them is getting a citizenship for my grandma, who has no direct relatives in China besides us, and who will therefore most likely live alone.

Frankly, she is terrified of the idea of immigrating. I think that she has always been frightened by the changing of the world. In her 70+ years of life, I don’t think she has ever taken any great risk such as this.

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” ~Plato

In other, less poetic words, people tragically fear living life to the full more than they fear death.

My grandma has always been kind of a goodie-two-shoes. She raised two kids, my mom and auntie, had a career as an engineer, grieved her husband, and retired to live with us. Her crafts are true feats of engineering. The little bead figurines and folded paper statues that she makes line our shelves and Christmas trees. I can’t make something as simple as a sphere out of beads and string.

2012-07-30 091347

Eric and Grandma take a selfie together

As amazed and entranced as I was in my childhood by the skill of her fingers, for a long time now I’ve felt that my grandma has been in a state of stagnation. She watches from her fortress of routine as her two children have continued onwards in life, and cannot do so much as send an email or text message. I literally see us, GJAEO, grow up, grow taller, grow smarter, but it seems like she has stopped learning herself. We once sat in the house together, alone, for a week, and the most advice I got was to wear more for the cold weather.

I despaired. Long have I searched for pearls of wisdom from my elders, answers to the questions of the universe, comfort in our human condition.

“What old people say you cannot do, you try and find that you can. Old deeds for old people, and new deeds for new. Old people did not know enough once, perchance, to fetch fresh fuel to keep the fire a-going; new people put a little dry wood under a pot, and are whirled round the globe with the speed of birds, in a way to kill old people, as the phrase is. Age is no better, hardly so well, qualified for an instructor as youth, for it has not profited so much as it has lost. One may almost doubt if the wisest man has learned anything of absolute value by living. Practically, the old have no very important advice to give the young, their own experience has been so partial, and their lives have been such miserable failures, for private reasons, as they must believe; and it may be that they have some faith left which belies that experience, and they are only less young than they were. I have lived some thirty years on this planet, and I have yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest advice from my seniors. They have told me nothing, and probably cannot tell me anything to the purpose. Here is life, an experiment to a great extent untried by me; but it does not avail me that they have tried it. If I have any experience which I think valuable, I am sure to reflect that this my Mentors said nothing about.”

Until I read this passage from “Walden”, I had always been waiting for this unheard advice from my “old people”, who I had once considered to all be sages. I realized that, no, it would never come. They are more or less just as clueless and lost as we are, and knowing that, I continued in my journey of self-discovery.

Until then, I didn’t consider that perhaps someone could know more than their elders on how to live life.

Retirement does not mean stagnation! I told my grandma how lucky she was to have no responsibilities, no job, no tethers, how many people wanted what freedom she had, and how frustrated I was that she would not take it.

She wants to stay in China, perhaps wanting nothing more than to lie peacefully in a corner of Nanjing until the next life, but more likely because she does not think she deserves to see the world. “I don’t want to make any trouble,” she reasons. “I won’t know anyone, I can’t speak the language, and I don’t want to sit on airplanes. I’ve already made a habit out of living here.”

Habit. That’s the worst reason for anything. I hate the idea of shirking change for routine, because routine is sleeping when you’re awake.

“Don’t live the same year 75 times and call it a life.” ~Robin Sharma

What do we wait for? Stop stalling. Each day is a gift. “活一天,赚一天。” It’s amazing to see first hand that even when you’re well into your 70’s, it can be as difficult as ever to leave your comfort zone. I want to help not just my grandma begin to live again before dying, but as many people as I can. Life is not a habit. We do not progress by staying in the same place, physically, spiritually, or mentally.

“The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.” ~John Muir

Meanwhile, my mom and I will continue persuading my grandma. I can completely understand why she is scared of change, but for me the idea of dying with massive regrets is too much for me to bear. Perhaps she thinks it’s too late for her to begin anew. But it never is. On the contrary, it’s always too early for us to toss in the towel and sit there waiting for death.

“And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” ~Dylan Thomas

That’s the end of today’s post. That being said, even though tomorrow is my last exam, I should still burn and rave at close of day – ahem, high school. No use losing heart now! Good luck in all your earthly and spiritual pursuits. ~Gloria

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4 thoughts on “Always Too Early for a Stagnant Retirement

  1. Jordan says:

    Who are you to tell someone to stop doing something that makes them happy? If she has found where she is happy, don’t force her to change.

    I grow weary of people who believe that you must constantly be striving and growing and changing. Why? If a person is happy, what more is there to strive for? Why must we be constantly be bouncing around to new things if we are content? Life is too short. If you find happiness, grab onto it. THAT is the wisdom your grandmother is quietly trying to teach you. Fear may play no part in it. Your grandmother is wise enough to recognize that she is already home. There is no shame in that.

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    • Gloria Sun says:

      Hi Jordan,
      I’m not sure if I know you, but I’m sorry if my post caused any offense. I can understand your point of view presented this way and I genuinely thank you for your input and honest opinion.
      I have not been forcing her into anything, but I am reluctant for my grandmother to continue such a “stagnant” life anymore, because I am not sure whether she is truly happy or not. If she were, I would completely appreciate that and try to learn from her sense of peace.
      Also, I do think that there is a delicate balance between being happy with what we have and what we are and also never-ending self-improvement. I do think that bouncing around, as you say, without a purpose, is meaningless. Like going nowhere fast.
      To reply to your comment, I think that yes, she is fearful of the wide world that she hasn’t seen. But that isn’t something to be ashamed of either. Comfort zone or no, I still care for her and respect her decisions.
      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment!
      Gloria

      Like

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