The best is yet to be: Dr. Strock: a year after retirement
The hands that once held dental tools are now folded in his lap, as he sits by the windows of his sunny living room. From here Peter Strock can see the same calming view of Vineyard Haven harbor that soothed the many patients who sat in his treatment room. Memorial Day marked the one-year anniversary of his retirement from his popular Island dental practice. He has been busy "taking the office out of the house and turning the house back into a home."
Although Dr. Strock spent much of last summer driving workboats for the Martha's Vineyard Shipyard in order to accrue "sea time" hours to qualify for his captain's license, he admits it was not until Labor Day that it hit him. "I woke up and realized, I don't have to be in the office on Tuesday. I can do anything I want," he says. "There is no curriculum for the last part of our lives. The culture is only now figuring out what to do with us." He laughs and adds, "We're only now figuring what to do with ourselves."
The "anything" includes everything from attending a top-notch culinary school to make pastry ("Anything that looks good and can fit on a fork") to being a ski bum for a year ("My dad would have said, nice work if you can get it") to learning ballet ("Just because it's the furthest from anything I've done in my life, and because I'm interested").
And Dr. Strock is interested in a lot of things. "My kids will tell you I should have been a history teacher." He smiles, sharing his notion of returning to Dartmouth College to finish a degree in history. He would like to travel east of the Bosporus in order to explore the ancient cultures there. Longer sailing trips also beckon to him, but are waiting for a time when "the grandkids are a little older."
For over 30 years, Dr. Strock did what he knew he wanted to do: "To take care of people." The son and nephew of dentists and academicians, he carried on the family tradition. When he arrived on Martha's Vineyard to take over his father's dental practice, he was grateful to find acceptance in a community with the attitude that his father was okay so they'd give him a chance.
Serving the community as part of the Dukes County Health Council, Dr. Strock says he learned civility and diplomacy. The lessons continue. As the years progress he continues to learn to accept his own vulnerability. "I don't have to be right all the time, which was part of a 1950s and 60s upbringing, and was also magnified by being a doctor."
"There is a tendency to take into retirement the patterns from the working life," says Dr. Strock, noting how easy it is to get very busy. "It takes time to figure it all out."
For a moment he looks out the window and reflects. Being in one's 70s, Dr. Strock says, is "like finishing a good sauce. You've reduced everything, you know what the flavors will be; now it is time to finish it." He says it is like being a teenager again, asking, "What do I want to do?" But, he adds, "Time is a presence at this stage of life. As a teen, time goes on forever." For elders, he says, there is the subtext: "Do I have the time?"
Sounding thoughtful, he says, "No one can do it for you. No one should do it for you. I say look at what someone else has done, someone you admire, and ask, is that for me?"
He quotes the second stanza of Robert Browning's poem: "Grow old along with me. The best is yet to be, The last of life, for which the first was made; Our times are in his hand who saith,
'A whole I planned, Youth shows but half; trust God: See all, nor be afraid."
"That's it," says Peter Strock, smiling. "Fear not, see all, trust God; our lives are in his Hand."
Then he calls to his wife, SaraLee, and when she appears, they stand together, arms around each other's shoulders, smiling. "This is what retirement is about," he says. "Being with the ones you love."
Fae Kontje-Gibbs is an artist and freelance writer.