Wednesday, May 22, 2013


PAST 90 (2)

Eighteen years ago, I published a memoir titled Looking for the Future*. This time around, I simply intend to write little vignettes of memory and reflection as they occur to me, not in chronological order or in any overall design. I may retell a few stories that were in my memoir — people don’t usually remember someone else’s stories as the years go by.

Inevitably, in the stretch of time between memoirs, my life has changed drastically. The biggest changes are those of loss, although change also evokes gain through new experience. Our daughter Carla was lost to breast cancer in 2003. Roz, my wife for 67 years, died in 2009 after a long ordeal of illness and physical disability. More than other ghosts of dear departed, Roz and Carla come back to me often in dreams and loving memory.

My new life is good, better than I could have imagined in my sad and loneliest days. Gail and I are married. We share a new love and ways of living that are different for each of us than in our past experience (more about that in later installments).

What I never expected was that my retirement years would stretch out as long as they have. 1984-1987 was transition time to full retirement, first giving up teaching and then winding down my research program and closing my laboratory. My active faculty career at the University of California lasted 26 years, beginning at UC San Diego and continuing as Professor of Molecular Biology/Immunology at Berkeley. Now it’s 29 years since I gave my last class lecture in Immunology.

Why did I retire when so many good and healthy years were still ahead? Does what I’ve done with my retirement years justify that choice?

Tough questions.

Of course Roz’s medical problems  — she had five back and hip surgeries in the 1980s — pressed me to an early decision. She had to retire from her long career of leadership in the field of developmental disabilities. I made her care my priority and took on cooking and housekeeping, even with a bit of enthusiasm. None of that do I regret, up to and including pushing the wheel chair in her last couple of years.

Still, that’s not the whole story. I guess I longed for a change of intellectual pace. I was very unhappy over growing commercialization and intrusive corporate influence that are the downside of astonishing advances in science and technology. Still, I could have adjusted to rapid changes in my field and in academia. But something else also kicked in, a current that remains a constant through all the choices, hopes (and wishful thinking) that have shaped me. I wanted to devote more time to political thinking, to try to better understand and write about social change.

How can I answer whether retiring when I did was right or wrong for me? I can’t. If I knew how long the last chapter would be, I might have made different arrangements. It’s something perhaps to think about once in a while, not to worry over.

*Click on the link and the book can be read on line. If you want your own copy, email your address to me at and I'll mail it to you.

No comments:

Post a Comment