What’s special about something as routine as changing tires?
There’s none, except in the figurative sense, when you reach your metaphorical flat line, otherwise known as retirement.
One finally gets rid of a job upon reaching its flat line—or flat tire, if you will. But it is an opportunity to change tires and venture into something more meaningful and gratifying.
This is the “special” thing about retirement: re-tiring for another, much more meaningful vehicle toward self-fulfillment. Changing tires is the metaphor for getting rid of a flat line of a job that has constricted one’s creativity during the long years of dealing with bureaucratic shackles. Long exposures to structure and stricture where the mediocre craft policies and make crucial, life-changing decisions have made robots out of creative minds, making them as inane and jaded as their offices. A former colleague once remarked that collective exasperation and psychosis can result when “idiots call the shots.”
Last Dec. 19 I finally “changed tires.” Reaching the mandatory age for retirement in Philippine government service has become sweet music to my ears, like my favorite songs from the past and present. On a Monday, I did not have to rush to a 9 a.m. class, to put my forefinger on the biometric machine. And it was the first time I had the choice of not getting out of bed at my usual 6 a.m. waking up time.
What does this freedom of having new “tires” bring me? It is a time for me to choose on my own terms, and on my own priorities, the kind of journey I will make. But this freedom also holds a lot of challenges and roadblocks. Dealing with the future is certainly no joyride, especially when your new tires are made of less durable materials.
For some, retirement has meant an end to their routine journey and the start of a life of even more drudgery than what they had before. Perhaps they made a wrong turn along the way, deciding on a short-term gain (like a whopping amount of retirement money equivalent to a 5-year lump sum of their pensions) and not making a stringent plan on what to do with it. It could also be the consequence of being sucked into the “routine-ness” of bureaucratic processes that lulled them to virtual sleep during their long years in government service. Or they may have squandered the years of their youth by not taking advantage of learning opportunities outside the four walls of their offices, or classrooms.
It is always cozy to enjoy the trappings of power, however ethereal it is, in one’s classroom as a professor, or in an administrative office, as a university official. It is easy to forget that one’s privileged position before retirement is not as hallowed as one believes it to be: People “revere” you because of the power that your position carries—for now. Sometimes, perks like these can delude some people into thinking that this privilege is permanent.
Perhaps this was my edge over others in the bureaucracy: First, I avoided the trappings of power associated with a high position in government. I also decided to have a life outside the four walls of my classroom, and of my small office, to do researches that are disconcerting—even threatening—for the faint of heart. Such forays into the relative “unknown” have made me better prepared for a life of possible roadblocks. But I think I am ready to take them on: I have made sure my new tires are made of stronger, sterner stuff than the previous ones I had.
This time, I will go where I am needed, where I will contribute to lessen the suffering of a world endlessly orbiting in poverty, insecurity, powerlessness, bigotry, misogyny, and extrajudicial killings.
Rufa Cagoco-Guiam, 65, a cultural anthropologist, just retired from the Department of Sociology of Mindanao State University–General Santos City. She is currently the national inclusive education and gender specialist of the Basic Education Assistance for Muslim Mindanao (BEAM–ARMM), a program funded by the Australian government.