Monday, February 4, 2013

For Judge Flora Wolf, a Liberation -- and Love

Flora Wolf, former Common Pleas Judge

In trying to find “purpose” and “meaning” in later life, some folks act as if they’re cramming for the test of their lives: if they don’t study really hard to figure it out, they’ll be failures in retirement. True has-beens.
Such is the pressure.
Former Common Pleas Court Judge Flora Wolf, though, sees this next stage of her life as “reinvention,” and one that comes with a sprinkle of luck, love and poetry.
Of reinvention, she told about 50 people at Philadelphia’s Cosmopolitan Club the other night,  “I’ve done it more than once.”
“When I was 33, my husband died, leaving me with two small kids, a dog and several cats. The dog had puppies -- eleven!
“It became apparent to me that I needed to work but I didn’t want to go back to school. So I got involved in a political effort, a ‘Recall Rizzo’ campaign,” she said, referring to the city’s cop-mayor of the 1970s. “It was a wonderful experience for independence, self-confidence, political connections and general friendship -- and out of that came law school.”
After a decade practicing law, Flora morphed again. She ran for election as a judge, building, she said, “another level of confidence.” For 20 years, it was “the best job I ever had.”  In her late 60s, she contemplated running for a third term, but it didn’t seem worth it.
“You go senior at 70 and somebody else gets appointed to take your place. So I said no. I had almost a year and a half to think about the next reinvention.”
In reading, The Third Chapter by Harvard sociologist Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, Flora was struck by her discussion of the “liberation” of this time of life, of “not having the same urgency, not having the same financial pressures, of not having the same ego, and I thought that was very appealing.”

While Flora was determined to work part time on a meaningful project, “my goal for the first day of retirement was to stay in bed all day. My goal for the second day was to go to [the restaurant] Parc and sit in one of the windows and drink cappuccino and be entertained by all the passersby.” 
Her plan had been to help social workers deal with “dependency” cases in the courts, involving children and families, but with bureaucratic changes, that idea went out the window.
Instead, serendipity flew in. And Flora was ready to embrace it. Or rather, him.
“I didn’t know that I would find a new relationship, and that we would travel together. It’s been an enormous pleasure. We went to India last year,” she said.
A year and a half into her transition, she’s still finding her way.
Yes, she’s on too many boards and committees – something she says she’ll “have to sort out.”
And no, she isn’t spending time at her desk. “I really need to spend an hour or two every morning doing the computer stuff, doing the reading, doing the paperwork I avoided for the last 50 years. And perhaps I will.”
And yes, there are things about her job she misses.
“I miss the work. I miss the responsibility -- occasionally.
“I miss my friends, but I still have lunch with them -- occasionally.

“It’s a good thing that we get two years in which to figure this out because I’ve now used up a year and a half of my transition time. I have to say it’s been one of the happiest times in my life so far...We’re getting ready to go to France. We’re going to study French. And when I come back I’ll find that project and save some small part of the world.”
Flora closed her remarks by reading from the poem “Ulysses” by Alfred Tennyson:

Come, my friends, ‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world. 
Push off…To sail beyond the sunset... 
Though much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Click here to read a blog on another Cosmopolitan Club speaker, Dr. Anna Meadows.
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