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Editor's Weekly: In defense of nothing

Native flowers growing alongside the Katy Trail near St. Charles.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Three questions pop up when people hear I’m planning to retire at the end of the year as editor of St. Louis Public Radio. Is there hidden drama? (No.) Are you healthy? (Yes.) Then comes the question people are more comfortable asking out loud: What do you plan to do?

Nothing, I say. It has turned out to be a surprisingly controversial answer.

My doctor shook his head. “You need something,” he warned. “When people do nothing, it doesn’t go well.”

A friend who took four months off to help his wife recover from surgery confided: “I couldn’t wait to get back to teaching. I needed that interaction.”

“Plan a long trip,” a retired friend advised. “By the time you get back, it won’t bother you that everyone else is going off to work and you aren’t.”

Honestly, I can’t imagine feeling bothered by that. But in deference to these concerns, I am doing some rethinking — about nothing, or at least how to talk about nothing.

How does this sound? I’m going to spend more time appreciating the world and people around me.

Already, I can picture the skeptical looks. In American culture, it’s OK to indulge your impulse to buy. Indulging your impulse to simply be? That sounds suspicious.

How about this? I plan to do more of what I want when I want and for as long as I want.

This, too, could raise eyebrows. Most of us are creatures of obligation. We clock in on time, meet when called, pitch in when needed. America may celebrate free spirits, but it runs on the work ethic.

A turret lathe operator machines parts for transport planes at the Consolidated Aircraft Corp. plant, Fort Worth, Texas, in October 1942.
Credit Library of Congress
Library of Congress
A turret lathe operator machines parts for transport planes during World War II.

Work, of course, has many rewards. If we’re lucky — and I've been very lucky — it’s economically sustaining, personally fulfilling and rich with relationships. It’s one way we give back to our community. I'm grateful to leave St. Louis Public Radio when it's thriving and in good hands; I'm confident that it will continue to transform and grow as an indispensable source of local news.

But the very intensity that makes my job so rewarding in some ways crowds out other ways of relating to the world. As a kid, I spent endless hours fishing, sometimes with no bait on the hook. Now I must juggle and prioritize rather than focus and savor. It’s time for adrenaline detox.

After retiring, I hope to trade the rush of deadlines for the pleasures of spontaneous enjoyment -- for meandering conversations, for undistracted thought and for rowing and running as far and fast as aging muscles will allow.

Man reading in Citygarden
Credit File photo | Rachel Heidenry | St. Louis Beacon
Reading at Citygarden.

I hope to spend more time seeing the world through the wonder-filled eyes and wacky ideas of my grandchildren. I hope to replace the buzz of multi-tasking with the clarity of doing what I am doing — one thing at a time.

All this may sound self-indulgent and way too suburban comfortable. But fully appreciating the sweetness in one’s own life is no excuse for ignoring the bitter difficulties and injustices others face. Our responsibility to make a better world doesn’t end when work does. I trust that retirement will open new ways to contribute.

My search for them will begin quietly. There's much to learn from nothing.

Follow Margie Freivogel on Twitter: @mwfreivogel

Margaret Wolf Freivogel is the editor of St. Louis Public Radio. She was the founding editor of the St. Louis Beacon, a nonprofit news organization, from 2008 to 2013. A St. Louis native, Margie previously worked for 34 years at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as a reporter, Washington correspondent and assistant managing editor. She has received numerous awards for reporting as well as a lifetime achievement award from the St. Louis Press Club and the Missouri Medal of Honor from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. She is a past board member of the Investigative News Network and a past president of Journalism and Women Symposium. Margie graduated from Kirkwood High School and Stanford University. She is married to William H. Freivogel. They have four grown children and seven grandchildren. Margie enjoys rowing and is a fan of chamber music.