At precisely 1:00 pm on January 31, myself and my short-legged dog loaded up in the pickup and drove down my dirt road the length of a football field to the mailbox. I held my breath as I reached out and opened it. It was at that moment my biggest fear of the past thirty-one days became a stark reality. My very first retirement check ever in the entirety of my sixty years on this earth...was not in that mailbox.
I had awakened every morning throughout January with a gnawing fear that something would go wrong. The prospect of actually achieving retirement seemed surreal. It had been too easy. I had walked into the boss's office and told him I was retiring. Three weeks later I signed my name to a stack of paperwork and walked out a free man. And every day since then I had this feeling of anxiety building to a climax. Had I really retired...or was I just unemployed? As I stared into that empty mailbox, my heart sank to the pit of my stomach. My bowels groaned in distress. But that could have been as a result of eating three-week-old taco meat for lunch that somehow had managed to hide itself in the back of the fridge.
In December I had received a letter from the Employee Retirement System of Texas, the folks who oversee all the state employees who had been turned out to pasture. It was very clear in stating that I would receive my first retirement check on the last business day of January, but it might be direct deposited or mailed. I'd began checking my online banking app the previous evening, and again every hour on the hour that fateful Wednesday. I had resolved myself to the fact that it would be in my mailbox. Yeah, if there is anything I learned from working for the state of Texas for twenty-three years, it's to never expect things to go as they should.
Back at the house, I sat and fretted. I should call the retirement people in Austin, I thought. My head swirled at the idea. The one time I had called them, I received that all too familiar recorded message:
'Hello, all representatives are currently busy. Your call is very important to us. Please remain on the line. Anticipated wait time for the next representative is twenty-two hours and eight minutes.'
"Okay," I told myself out loud, "do you really need this money today?"
I shook my head. The fact of the matter is I had decided to retire because I didn't need an eight to five job anymore, nor did I have time for one. But, it was the principle of the thing. They said I'd get my check on the last day of the month and I didn't.
But the anxiety would not pass. I paced the floor. I flipped channels on the TV. Finally, I broke my own cardinal rule. I laid down in the middle of the day and took a nap. I was awakened two hours later by a bad dream. A voice had kept repeating over and over, 'Your call is very important to us. Please remain on the line.'
I wiped the perspiration from my forehead and sat on the side of the bed, staring at the clock. I was literally going to give myself a heart attack worrying about that blasted retirement check. I needed a distraction, I decided, heading toward the bathroom for a shower. As the warm, soothing water hit my face, I decided I'd go up to the church and check out that Bible Study the pastor had mentioned last Sunday.
There was a mere handful of people gathered in the chapel that evening. We sang 'The Old Rugged Cross' with only a guitar accompanying us, me lip syncing right along with the others. Then we opened our Bibles for an hour and a half of just what I needed, a distraction...and what better distraction from my self-imposed distress than studying the Word.
As I drove home that night, I found myself very disappointed in me. Where was my faith? Not my faith in the Employee Retirement System of Texas, but my faith in God? Today I had doubted that God would take care of me. Had He ever failed before? Had I ever missed a meal or slept on a bench in a park? Never.
At precisely 1:00 pm on February 1, myself and my short-legged dog loaded up in the pickup and drove down my dirt road the length of a football field to the mailbox. I hesitated briefly and reached my hand toward the mailbox. Peaking at the bug-eyed canine in my back seat, I withdrew an envelope from the mailbox and exclaimed,
"Buckle up, Stinky! We're heading to the bank!"