The media is looking at Joe Biden’s announcement that he will not run for President as a political calculus. Biden talked about “the window on mounting a realistic campaign for president” closing. But I choose to view his decision through the lens of a woman who took six years to retire from a career she loved. And I want to tell him that eventually, a new door will open for him.
At age 72, Biden has served in political office for most of his life. He was elected to the Senate at age 29 and began his tenure there in the midst of the tragic loss of his first wife and daughter. Somehow, he found a way to balance public service with raising his young sons, remarrying, and adding a daughter to his family. While he never succeeded in his ultimate ambition to become President, he will end a 42-year career in elected public life when he steps down as Vice President in January of 2017.
He struggled with his decision. I understand. Rather than succumbing to political cynicism (he saw no way to beat Hillary), I think the loss of his son Beau at his age was too much. Clearly, Joe Biden is a man who loves politics, but there comes a time in all of our lives when we let go of the thing we used to love and accept that it is time to step aside and retire. Except many of us don’t really do that. Instead, we find a new passion to give meaning to our lives.
My six-year journey to retirement started when I felt I could no longer give my all to my work. Cherry Preschool, the early childhood program I had founded and then directed for fifteen years, was doing well, but the energy and passion I had for my job was decreasing. In the span of four years, I became a grandmother to four precious little girls. That was the good distraction. The not-so-good one was my aching back. After trying everything from injections to physical therapy to acupuncture, it was time to bite the bullet and have surgery. And I knew in my heart it was time to retire.
Except I didn’t totally retire. I just couldn’t leave the school I adored and the colleagues who had become good friends. I would miss the families and darling preschoolers too much. So I stayed on as a mentor for the new director and in the role of communications coordinator. Three years passed. No more mentoring was needed but like The Very Hungry Caterpillar, I was “still hungry.” Or maybe still needy and very afraid better described my mental state.
After three more years, I was no longer hungry for action or needy for interaction. But I was definitely still afraid. Here I was a 68-year-old grandmother of eight without a purpose. I could volunteer, but where? I joined a book club and went out to lunch with my friends who were also retired, but all I could see stretching out ahead of me were closed doors. When my friend and fabulist cartoonist, Marcia Liss, drew the picture at the top of this blog, I was at my lowest and most self-pitying point. I felt old and discarded.
And then I started to write and blog and advocate. As I wrote in my introductory post for ChicagoNow, I was reinvented, not retired, I realized that I while had ended my career as an educator, I still had my my voice. After a few months of wallowing in the misery of my own making, I had discovered the truth in the words of Alexander Graham Bell,
“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”
I’m sure we have not heard the last from Vice President Joe Biden. He can retire from elected office, but I expect to hear his voice again and I’m sure he will find a way and the time to advance the causes that mean to most to him. Regardless of political persuasion, we should thank him for so many years of public service and look forward to his next act.
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…” (Ecclesiastes)
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