Monk in the World Guest Post: Nancy Agneberg

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to our Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Nancy Agneberg’s reflection, Surprise, Nancy, You are Retired!

“So what do you do?”

My husband Bruce and I were spending a long weekend in one of our favorite vacation areas, Door County, WI. Often called the “New England of the Midwest,” Door County is a long, narrow peninsula with Green Bay on one side and Lake Michigan on the other. We loved roaming the countryside, as well as enjoying the water views. Restaurants, galleries, theatre. Time there was restorative.

One morning we stopped in a gallery where the artist-owner engaged Bruce in conversation, asking if this was our first visit to Door County and where we were staying. The usual. And then he asked the “What do you do?” question.

“I’m a hospice doc in Madison.”

“Wow, what an admirable thing,” he responded. I circled the gallery, hoping to avoid being asked the same “What do you do?” question, for I was not yet comfortable saying, “Oh, I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m retired.”

We had moved from Ohio to Madison, WI, recently, and I struggled to find my next step. I had reached out, sent out resumes, networked, made calls, followed leads, explored options, took classes. I gave it my best shot, but nothing seemed to click. At age 60, it seems, I had retired, much to my surprise.

Our Ohio home, Sweetwater Farm, had been a place of shelter and sanctuary where people felt privileged to spend time. Visiting us became an event, a ritual, a retreat. Our life there with the gardens and pond, the century home filled with antiques, the barn housing our personal petting zoo—llamas and sheep and geese and goats, donkey and chickens, oh my—was what many people say they, too, want. We lived the fantasy for many.

I completed my training as a spiritual director and met with clients there. I prepared classes and retreats, even leading some at the farm, and I enjoyed quiet writing time. I lived a contemplative life.

The first year in Madison, while waiting for the farm to sell, we lived in an unappealing apartment. Each time I walked up the dreary stairs and down a colorless hallway to a nameless door, I felt anonymous. I missed our cheery laundry room where quarters were not required. I resented the teeny-tiny mailbox that chewed up the home décor magazines I loved. When I sat on our small balcony for morning meditation, I missed the uninterrupted quiet I achieved without effort at the farm and instead, became privy to conversations I did not want to hear.

When I expressed to a friend how clueless I had been, she showed her surprise.

“Do you mean to tell me you didn’t spend any time writing in your journal about what this move might mean for you? You are usually so reflective, seeing beneath the surface of situations.”

“I know and, of course, I filled page after page about this move and our new life here, but I truly thought I would be welcomed and recognized for what I could bring to the community.”

“Well, friend, I guess it is time to pull out your journal and go a bit deeper.”

Of course.

My inner voice, the one beneath morning traffic and slamming doors and crying children, invited me to clear the space, to find open space, to rest in the expanse in front of me, behind me. My sanctuary became the car, and I wandered country roads. I headed to where I could see beyond the rainbow. I looked for the first hints of fall or a hawk over the horizon. I took a deep breath and became the lone tree across the meadow with grass at my toes to keep me grounded and branches to touch the blues no one else sees.

Sometimes I went to the University of Wisconsin’s student union on the shore of Lake Mendota where the water view welcomed me. “Come, sit as long as you want.” The expanse of water and sky momentarily set aside the yearning, the urgency to know, “what’s next?” as I imagined myself floating into that expanse where waterline touches skyline, where body, mind and spirit unite, where what is far away is also close at hand.

These moments of reflection, of contemplation, helped ease me into acceptance, into the surprise of being retired.

I needed time to dry on the clothesline. Some slow sipping time. Some take a breath into midair time. Some time to hit the pause button. Time to cleanse the palate. Unsubscribe. Wade in the water. I needed time to honor the transition. Time to sit with the Divine, the Sacred, and enjoy the surprise. 


Nancy L. Agneberg, a writer and spiritual director, finds joy helping others deepen their relationship to the Divine, the Sacred, the Holy, especially as one ages. Currently, Nancy is writing a spiritual memoir about the spiritual invitations of moving and living in different homes. She posts frequently on her blog, Clearing the Space.

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