Living Leisurely vs. a Life of Leisure

Smell the roses.

So I’ve noticed lately how often I’m greeted with a slightly sarcastic “how’s retired life?” Sometimes people follow up the greeting with a reminder that they “actually work.”

It’s been more than six months since I stopped working and the slight condescension from others is starting to annoy me a little. Maybe I still seem an oddity, a novelty, to them.

It’s amazing how I’ve become so accustomed to my life now that those comments or questions throw me off a bit. “What? Oh, yeah, it’s great,” I reply, underplaying it a bit because, frankly, it’s FREAKIN’ AWESOME.

It is easy to confuse a life of leisure with living life more leisurely. I’m definitely doing the latter. A life of leisure conjures up images of sunbathing by a pool, shopping for expensive handbags, long lunches on Park Avenue after tennis at the club. That’s not what I’m doing.

But I am savoring almost every part of the day. Today, I woke up slowly, realizing I would have already been at my desk at that hour a year ago.

I drove my daughter to debate camp, listening and laughing with her gleeful anticipation of tonight’s Republican debates.

Later, I sipped my second cup of coffee and read the entire newspaper. Then I picked up the kids’ alterations and asked the seamstress about her own kids and grandkids.

I went to the grocery store for the second time this week right in the middle of the day. I took my time walking up and down the aisles. I chatted with the deli counter lady. I was in no hurry.

I let the ticked-off guy wearing scrubs cut in front of me in line at the U Break I Fix store. He was so grateful that he went from surly to charming in two seconds flat.

I’m heading to an appointment to have my roots colored soon. I have time to get cash first after my stylist texted me, stressed out, that her credit card machine is broken. No problem.

It occurs to me that none of these are things I could have done on a typical Thursday one year ago. I would have crammed the errands at the end of a long day, flustered and exhausted in this 98 degree summer heat. The grocery run would have been squeezed in late on a Sunday night. The hair appointment would have meant guiltily missing some family activity on a Saturday morning.

A paid sitter would have driven Hannah to school, listened to her stories and run the errands that I would have been too important and busy to do myself.

I have an old friend, a very successful attorney, who told me last week he broke up with his live-in girlfriend of more than 15 years because she didn’t work. He’s fairly wealthy, mind you. It just bugs him, he explained. She volunteers at animal rescues. She serves as a guardian ad litem for troubled kids. She’s beautiful and works out daily. She loves him. But he finds he doesn’t respect her if she isn’t gainfully employed. He thinks she’s uninteresting without a job to talk about or co-workers’ stories to share. He asked her to move out. If she gets a job, he told her, she can move back in. God, I hope she gets a job and never goes back.

I’m sure he thinks less of me now. But the thing is, I kind of think less of him. This same friend refused to have children with his first wife because she was short and he didn’t want to risk having short sons. She worked, by the way, but it didn’t stop him from cheating on her.

My mother never worked. She was also one of the most engaging and respected women I’ve ever known. She read voraciously. She commanded respect by how she carried herself, by what she said and how she loved and lived. She wasn’t meek or apologetic or boring. Ever. She would have thought my friend was missing the point of loving someone. If she was alive, she might have invited him to dinner and given him a good lecture about his own conduct as a partner.

Many of us are missing the point of life. Too many of us value leaning in at a conference table much more than leaning in to talk with the person on the other side of a deli counter. We admire status and power titles over the state of our own souls and measure others’ worth by their net worth.

We take vain pride in how busy we are and then buy books on “mindfulness” or how to “be present” in our own lives. It’s easy. Just. Slow. Down.