It never made sense to Dr. Willis. He didn’t understand why I’d want to write silly little pop songs for a living.
So unstable. So unpredictable.
He said I should get more degrees and then teach like he did. He said he didn’t like to teach composition but that adults are supposed to spend their lives doing what they don’t like to do until they get to retirement. Then they can live, he said.
Dr. Willis told me I’d be his last student. He needed just a little more money and then he’d retire. He’d cash in his savings, buy a sailboat and hit the water with his wife.
He actually smiled enough to show teeth when he talked about sailing. I never saw teeth when he lectured on 15th Century counterpoint or the ins and outs of writing for string sections.
Before the end of that semester Dr. Willis was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
He died just before I left Waco for Nashville to write pop songs.
I’ve been retired ever since.
We live more simply than we used to so we can give more freely than we used to and live more fully.
I can take a Wednesday, for instance, and drive my two oldest down the Natchez Trace until we find a nice shady place to park.
We can head off across a creek together.
We can pretend we’re explorers and discover new stuff all around us.
I get to watch my kids watch the world around them while they’re still interested in watching something other than a cell phone.
We can rest in the shade and eat some sandwiches.
We can climb through the ruins of someone else’s past.
We can scavenge old bottles from a hideout and I can tell my kids stories about glass-stealing trolls and goblins while they’re still naive enough to believe me. For a minute.
There’s no waiting for the good life to arrive someday.
No putting off the stuff I like – the stuff that feels like living to me.
Retirement is now.
Thanks, Dr. Willis. Your death taught me how to live.