Crossing Things Off the List: A Reflection on Retirement

by Linda Brebner

When I retired from a retail job a little over a year ago, and having retired from the ministry several years before that, I had a long list of things I wanted to do during the next couple of years.  It included goals ranging from the mundane (such as having the repair work completed on ice damage done in a closet and painting my sun porch) to the sublime  (such as  traveling throughout the Southwest, reconnecting with my clergy sisters and taking classes to learn to paint and draw).

At the end of the first year, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I have crossed off quite a few things from my list and feel good about my retiree status.

I bought a new laptop computer and learned to use it.  It has opened a whole new world to me, and I can be in touch with people so much faster.

I went on the trip to the Southwest. Covering 8,000 miles in eight weeks in eight states, I saw wonderful sights and visited long loved friends along the way.  I left some places to go on the next trip!

I attended my first Elderhostel in Berea, KY, in which I learned a whole lot about Appalachia, its people and its folk art, as well as visiting the campus of Berea College, an inspiring institution of higher education to which I have given over the years.  On my way to and from KY, I stopped to see friends in Indiana and Ohio, some of whom I hadn’t seen for years.  I have learned that extending my trips to include visits with friends along the way makes such goals even more rewarding.

I took two art courses and learned how it can be both fun and frustrating.  I think I will wait to take more courses until I have more time to concentrate!

I helped to paint the sun porch, and it’s still not completed.  Some tasks just don’t get done as quickly as one might like.  Maybe next summer it will be ready for me to enjoy!

The repair work on the closet has grown to include repair on the ceiling of the kitchen where a small water leak made a real mess this fall.  That is not the kind of thing I want to add to my list, but sometimes it happens.  Work begins this week.  Thank goodness for insurance.

And I have reconnected with my clergy sisters.  One of the ways was a research project I started on early clergywomen ordained in the PCUSA between 1956-1976, and it has taken a lot of work.  This was never on my list!  I developed a survey and found over 200 clergywomen to whom the survey could be sent.  Now I am processing the material sent to me by nearly 100 women; a wonderful return! Next year will bring face-to-face interviews with 20-25 of the respondents, which will involve traveling throughout the U.S.  This is a new item on my list which will probably be there for three or four more years as I share my findings in articles and maybe in a book.

Reconnecting with my clergy sisters took many other forms as well this year.  I had stimulating meals with my colleagues here locally, some old friends and some new.  The best meal was the celebration of the 40th anniversary of my ordination held at a small Greek restaurant.  We enjoyed three uninterrupted hours together.  What a gift it was!  Then I attended the Celebration of the Ordination of Women at Princeton Seminary in April where I ran into more new and old friends.  In addition, the project on clergywomen has brought me in touch with so many more clergywomen, about half of whom I had never known about before.  Staying in touch with my clergysisters is something that will not be crossed off my list. It’s an ongoing delight, not a task completed.

Returning to the Presbyterian Church (USA) was certainly not on my list, because I had withdrawn from the church for six or seven years  When I returned to my current presbytery, Genesee Valley Presbytery, it was a homecoming which I had not anticipated.   My retirement and return to GVP have been uplifting and energizing.  I have been embraced and appreciated in such a way that I have been graced and loved back into the church.   I have been asked to serve on the Committee on Preparation for Ministry, which I had not experienced before, and I was recruited to be the resource person for the Theological Education Fund.  Both have been really exciting opportunities but take a lot of time and energy.

Participating in two book groups has kept me hopping in terms of keeping up on my reading.  Each group is quite different, but I enjoy each very much.  I am sure I would not have the discipline to do a lot of reading without the motivation which comes from sharing the reading goal on the list with a whole group.  This is another continuing item on my list, for I thoroughly enjoy the information and new insights which reading brings me.

What I Have Learned

I read an article recently in which the author was lamenting that as she grows older (not nearly as old as I am), she realizes that she will not fulfill some of the hopes/dreams on her list.  This is true for each of us, I suppose, but what I have learned this first year of retirement is:

  1. Always have a list of dreams, projects, and hopes to which you refer now and then.  Don’t be afraid to change it; take items off, put new ones on, or modify those you have.
  2. Timing may not be as we had planned.  Things come up. Schedules get changed. For example, I didn’t plan to paint and clean my bathroom and bedroom just before I was leaving for my Southwest trip, but I reordered my list when I learned that a dear friend, Mary, would be coming to visit.  A task at the bottom of my list was quickly moved to the top.  Having the house look so nice for my guest was a real joy. Take the opportunity when comes.
  3. New dreams will emerge from the fulfilling of older dreams.  Wanting to reconnect with my clergy sisters was one of the things which led me to my study on clergywomen.
  4. Realities of life or other choices may mean postponing some dreams.  I had always thought taking art classes would be a priority when I retired, but then I found that I was too busy to have the free attention required to continue that pursuit.  It will evolve at another time.
  5. My tendency was to want to get through my list of 100 items in one year.  I have learned that it is much better to take opportunities as they occur rather than trying to push the river.  I am planning a trip for next spring to an area I have not visited before.  I wanted to include all of my dreams into one trip, but it just couldn’t be done if I was going to enjoy the trip at all.  So I will take another trip in the future and cover some of the places I will miss this time around.
  6. With the death of one of my dearest friends this summer, I was brought up short.  She and I had not seen each other for 12 years and now it was too late.  What a shame!  I have made a commitment to put my personal relationships on the top of the list.  Whenever I can visit friends on any trip or project, I will do so.  When I can’t see someone in person, at least I can try to be in regular contact by email or phone and let them know how much they mean to me.  I have visited many friends this year, some of whom I had not seen for 20 years or more, and it has been a blessing to me.  What’s more, I find myself adding new friends along my retirement path, and that is a blessing too.
  7. I have begun attending a local church when I am in town and not supply preaching.  What a joy to be able to attend a church service and not worry about how we will get to the end of it!  What’s more, I have a pastor for the first time in 40 years.  She is really great, and I find our conversations enlightening and spirit lifting.  Now that wasn’t on my list, but someone gently placed it there for me.  Yes, sometimes someone who loves us puts an item on our list, and it usually is life affirming!

So get to it, my friends. Start making your lists and “checking them twice” and know that dreams can come true.

– Linda Brebner


© 2005 Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus , EEWC Update, volume 29, number 3, Fall (October-December) 2005

Linda Brebner
This article originally appeared as an EEWC Council Column, the writing of which rotates among the members of the EEWC Executive Council. Linda Brebner is a retired Presbyterian minister and serves as one of EEWC’s Northeast representatives and as the Council’s secretary. She earlier wrote the review essay, “Taking the Down Escalator.”


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