At the Field Museum in Chicago are little-visited rooms with giant glass cases in which life-size dioramas present scenes of zebras grazing and lions laying in tall grass and giraffes nibbling at fake tree tops. In each scene there is one animal that has turned its head and is looking right at you with an expression that says it is studying you as much as you are studying it.
I have also seen dioramas of frontier settlers and underground miners and postal carriers on a 19th century street; and rather than being drawn to the interactive displays in other areas of the museum, I enjoy looking at the dioramas which put a former moment behind a glass wall so no one can change it.
In a way, the dioramas are like our memories when we retire–memories like riding a city bus to campus with my wife when she was my girlfriend, and walking by my children’s bedrooms while they were reading from their first chapter books.
Retirement is not required, obviously, to look back at the past, but retirement makes the act more purposeful; for if the earlier stages in life are to be navigated with energy, the latter stages may be wandered through like the rooms at the Field Museum, mindful of the noise from neighboring rooms and their interactive displays but satisfied for the moment to stay in a place where it is not necessary to wade through waves of children and parents and other people’s excitement.
That may sound overly nostalgic, but memories remind us of who we were, and they deserve to be visited, unchanging and protected.