Three years later, we were ready for the next phase of our plan: rid ourselves of most of our possessions and sell our house. At this point, we felt not just financially but emotionally prepared to embark on our retirement journey, having had enough time to mull over the essential questions: How would we adjust to our new lifestyle? Would we feel too distant from our daughters, our grandson, and other loved ones? Would we be happy living out of a backpack? There were a lot of unknowns, but we'd already had a taste of life on the road and were excited about our decision.
It took several weeks to go through our belongings—furniture, artwork, books, clothing, appliances, etc. This was a catharsis for us. We priced everything carefully so that our giant garage sale would be successful. Initial despair evolved to a point where we couldn't stop laughing. That wonderful Eames chair that was so expensive was still beautiful, but 30 years had certainly aged it. My favorite leather jacket was not nearly as new as I'd thought it was. The onyx coffee table we'd spent six months picking out wasn't so pretty after all. What an eye-opener it was, taking a realistic look at all those "treasures" of ours.
We each had a few things we hated to part with. For me, it was my motorcycle and mechanic's tools. For Marcia, it was all the memorabilia—scraps of material from dresses she'd sewn for our daughters, the kids' childhood drawings and all the cards they'd made for us, our photo albums—much of which we wound up storing in a friend's attic.
Before we started selling things, we invited our children, nieces, and nephews to take what they wanted. Then a few special pieces went to dealers. Our weekend-long garage sale took care of most everything else. It was a wonderful process.
A few days later, we closed on the sale of our house. We left the attorney's office with a fat check in hand and two backpacks—a "his" and a "hers." Off we went in our two cars, one going to each of our daughters. We delivered the cars and said our farewells before going to the airport for the initial flight to Africa and the first leg of our new life.
We had realized that as enjoyable as our first trip was, essentially we were tourists, seeing the sights and tasting the food, but rarely getting involved with the locals, except for the few families we'd met during our homestays. So this time, we had reached out to a nongovernmental agency, American Jewish World Service (AJWS), which would place us as volunteers in different locations, and we planned to stay with a lot more host families.
Our first stop was Zimbabwe, where shortly after arrival we began a three-month AJWS assignment with a grass-roots agency called the Organization of Rural Associations for Progress (ORAP). Suddenly, there we were in Bulawayo, a part of the life and among the people. We became totally immersed in our work. Marcia started with grant writing and later branched out to teaching grant writing, working with the unit engaged in microcredit financing, and reorganizing ORAP's library. My assignment was to help people start small businesses, but I soon saw where the agency's greatest need was and began supervising and reorganizing its construction department. I helped get it back on its feet, trained a young man to take over as department head after my departure, and within three months we saw it turn a profit. Having originally been skeptical about what I could do as a volunteer, I was surprised to find how much I was able to help by using many of the skills from my working life. It was challenging and immensely rewarding—and just the start.
The lifestyle that has emerged in our retirement is satisfying to us both. We have become citizens of the world and yet have maintained close ties with our loved ones, thanks in part to the widespread availability of e-mail. A pattern that agrees with us has taken shape. We spend some time each year in the United States, visiting friends and family—going to our grandson's school to be his "show-and-tell," and tending to tax returns and medical checkups. We house-sit in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, five or six months a year, taking classes, doing volunteer work, reconnecting with friends. The rest of our time is devoted to travel and volunteering. We have had AJWS placements in South Africa, West Africa, India, and South America, and are looking forward to the next one, wherever that may be. We also have stayed with many wonderful host families both in the United States and abroad.
Right now this is a balanced and meaningful life. But who knows? For us, everything is subject to change, and we can go anywhere at a moment's notice. There are so many options, so long as we continue to keep ourselves unencumbered.