Weighing the Transitions in a Life

When I began this blog I wanted to use it to record “observations” about the start of old age, the approach of retirement, and what these changes mean – to me, to others, and in history. In 2014, the observations were infrequent. Deciding to postpone retirement for a few years made the reflective project less urgent, even though the changes kept creeping into consciousness. Recently I’ve been thinking again about when and how to retire, and also about how we mark and celebrate transitions like retirement. There’s the proverbial gold watch, the retirement party, the application for Social Security benefits, the plans for moving to a new location or a smaller home, or moving on to a second career. In a description of the year preceding her retirement (“The Forever Professors,” Chronicle of Higher Education, Nov. 21, 2014) Laurie Fendrich wrote of her awareness of “the last time,” the bittersweet feelings aroused as she finished with talking to a class of students, grading an exam, going to a department meeting… Cognizance of the many last times foreshadowing retirement is surely one of the rituals marking this transition.

Yet, as I look back on the major transitions in my life over the past 50 years, I do not remember thoughts of the “last time” as markers of change. Rather I’ve become aware that each of my transitions has involved weight! Occasionally weight gain, as in pregnancy, but more significantly, weight loss. Dieting…that is something I associate with the big changes of divorce, applying for that first tenure-track job, and now, retirement.

I thought the determination to focus on food and exercise this past summer and fall were related to the potential for health problems revealed by the last annual blood analysis. Underlying this immediate “threat,” however, I now see this decision to diet as a powerful change-coping strategy. Every transition, including my preparation for retirement, involved feelings of loss as well as an awareness of possibilities. Apparently, accepting and assimilating those feelings requires that I visualize them – on the bathroom scale. I am turning each loss recorded by the digital readout into a symbol of what will be gained from this impending transition.

As I write these thoughts, I wonder if I am alone in calculating transitions in body weight. It requires more effort than accepting a gold watch, but the gains promised are so much greater. (And that includes an excuse for a new wardrobe!)