Serving in New York City

October 11, 2022

A good friend of mine, who has 30 years on me, once said: “our career is like a tree that we water, fertilize and tend for many years and it grows and bears much fruit. When we retire, it’s like taking an ax and cutting it down. However, around a fallen tree it isn’t long before shoots begin to grow up from the roots. The roots are all our skills, talents, life experience and wisdom. Our job in retirement it to nurture the shoots that are meaningful to us. We need to find worthy things to do.” There is a lot of truth in that statement.

Yesterday I was part of a crew that went to New York City to capture video of 15 residents serving at the New York School of Urban Ministry (NYSUM) as part of a Travel with Purpose Trip. The residents ranged in age from 70 to 95. They arrived on Sunday and departed on Thursday. During their time in New York, they completed construction work including both demolition as well as framing, sanding, painting and office support during the day. In the evening, they staff a food truck that goes out in the streets and serves free hot food to people who are homeless and hungry. Monday night it was hot dogs at a veteran’s shelter. Because NYSUM is a faith-based ministry, they provide not only free hot food but they also share messages of hope and pray with those who feel like they could use the prayer support.

This was one of those worthy things to do. The team of residents were working on the margins serving those without resources and nowhere to call home. At dinner my friend Ray, who is 95, was looking forward to interacting with vets. He told me, “I want to hear their stories.” He had served in the military when he was young and though he didn’t know any of them, he expressed feeling a special bond based on common experience.

Later that evening, standing at a distance, I watched him interact. He was shaking hands and introducing himself to the men and would stand and talk for a while. While I could not hear the conversations, I saw smiles and laughter, hands on shoulders and the expressions on his and the other mens’ faces as ones of connection and friendship. They may have been worlds apart but in that moment there was a special connection between two human beings sharing stories.

We all find purpose and meaning in different ways, through the worthy things we choose to do. While we often don’t realize it throughout our career years because we are simply too busy, many of us discover that worthy things to do are best expressed in pouring ourselves out into the lives of others. It might be by interacting with homeless people on the streets of NYC, it might be by mentoring in a local school, it might be the creation of special projects in the Wood Shop for someone or some cause. When you tap into the things that you find worthy, your post-career years will most likely outshine all those years you spent building a career. Retirement does not mean that we retire from life, it means we move beyond the responsibilities of a career so that we can choose worthy things to do in order to make a difference in the lives of others and the world.

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