I like to joke that the best place to write well is actually from prison. In between beatings from the guards, there is often a lot of “free time,” unless you’re in labor camp, I would guess. Many of the greatest writings in history were scripted from prison: there is probably enforced time to think, and a good location to set your ideas on paper, or sheepskin, or even just in your brain….. Think about St. Paul, who was in prison numerous times, and probably wrote the most significant letters of all time, influencing concepts and conduct of likely one third of the world, for nearly two thousand years. I’m sure that he would not have been able to do that without the solitude of prison life! Another great writer, respected by many, is Mahatma Gandhi who was arrested numerous times by the British Raj, but was able to preach his theories of nonviolence, to resist the greatest colonial power of all time, and establish a new huge nation of India, basically from the pulpit of prison.
Suitably inspired, I hope to “replicate” prison life in comfortable and beautiful Seattle! I think I have finally reached a fairly ideal situation in life, where I can hide from my former rush, rush, rush life (see my Uncle Reggie story, rush rush rush). I really want to pretend to be like those who were really in prison, away from the civilization around them. By God’s grace, in my “third retirement,” I am now in a totally new city, and am trying to avoid jumping into a whirlwind of activities like I was involved in before.
In fact, I have to try hard to not get involved in any new ministry and service, because of my usual instinct to “do something, don’t just stand there!” attitude. For example, I have a “bad habit” of thinking out loud when I see something that I feel could be done in a different way, and likely I think better. When the thought has escaped into language, I then turn around and find out that, hmmm nobody seems to want to do anything about it, so then sooner or later, I “feel guilty” that maybe I should do something about it, and not just make empty comments. So, then I become “involved” in some ministry or service, and I’ve jumped in again.
Some people, especially Chinese Christians, who ask what I am doing during this phase of my life, are likely expecting, based on my “previous life,” some “practical” answer like, “I am now serving in this or that way, at this or that local Chinese church.” I have to explain, with a straight face, that I am not doing anything specific at any church, and my family and I are not even attending a Chinese church. And that I am not trying to avoid my responsibilities, but actually trying to develop my responsibilities and discipline, by hiding! Which is sometimes a bit difficult to explain, maybe of course more to myself than to others! But actually, I’m having some progress there, in that I don’t really feel guilty anymore, when I start explaining my situation. Although, deep down, I might still be reading some sense of disappointment by the enquirer, when I tell the truth.
One pastor even remonstrated to me, “there is no retirement for servants of the Lord,” maybe unconsciously trying to give me a “guilt trip.” Which statement I actually agree, since this is my “third retirement,” so you can sense how I feel about “retirement.” And I don’t like to golf anyway, nor to relax on the beach, so prison is just right for me (smile). Strangely enough, as I was writing this article, it struck me that the best answer to stop funny questions is something like, “O, I‘m a writer now,” which sometimes seems to work, or at least the one asking just seems puzzled, like “is that really a job?” And I have been using the writer’s favorite pose, signing books, as my home photo on facebook and wechat. Let’s see if that works.
Mainly I have been able to “hide,” by attending a big non-Asian church (5 services on weekends), which most of our Seattle family have been going to, where I can be more of a bystander, and thus avoid the “where are you serving” kind of question (smile) altogether. Which sounds awful, but hey, this is an important phase of my life, and I feel specially called for this phase also, as in other phases of my life. Since my first early retirement 2 decades ago, every “retirement decade” has involved initially a specific period of prayer to discern God’s will for each phase, including this one. I like to ask, maybe I might be given one more decade of life, Lord willing, before I meet my Maker?
I am fortunately in a city that is supposed to be overcast and dreary for 9-10 months. When I type the word Seattle on the Swype keyboard on my smartphone, the machine is so “smart aleck” that it just shows an “umbrella in the rain” icon, instead of spelling out the word “Seattle”; that seems rather insouciant. I have been told that every day, there is a kind of a minimal daily drizzling rain, and an occasional burst of sunshine that is quite refreshing. It has seemed to be that way as I am writing this story in January to April, but it is perfect for my prison concept.