Gladys Loewen is a retired manager and educator on disability resources.
It is so common to be asked, “What do you do?” as an identifier in social conversations that I wondered how I would transition to retirement without my professional identity in hand. Surprisingly, retirement offered me a path of “rewirement” where multiple learning opportunities and challenges abound.
This path has concentrated on health, taking classes, and volunteer opportunities. Physiotherapy and Pilates facilitated my transition from using a cane to walking independently; from lifting two pounds to lifting my grandchildren as infants. With greater mobility, I can indulge my love of travel and culture which has included trips to Siberia where my mother was born, Colombia where we lived as children, and the Marquesas Islands for an adventure.
I sing in a community choir, revisiting my lifelong love of music, treasuring the connection of that shared, musical experience.
Through volunteer work in Guatemala for a charitable organization, I am a “madrina” (godmother) to three Mayan students whose educational fees my husband and I underwrite. I offer reading glasses to women who can no longer thread a needle, a real problem as Mayan women typically clothe themselves and their daughters by sewing their huipiles (blouses) from their hand-woven textiles. When they successfully thread a needle, their faces glow with excitement, knowing they can still sew and embroider.
Returning to my Mennonite sewing roots, I take quilting classes, making quilts for my grandchildren, teaching them sewing skills. Quilting has led me to an international quilting project where, using two red XXs, people commemorate each of the 70,273 disabled people gassed by the Nazis in 1940-1941. I made quilts for the project, introduced others to it, and currently coordinate six volunteers doing data entry to document 2260 quilters and crafters from around the world who participated in making 860 quilts.
As a consultant, I offer training on reframing disability to create inclusive environments in higher education, guided by principles of social justice and diversity. My former career provided the springboard for this avenue of training.
Hence, today when you ask me, “what do you do?” I have the pleasure of deciding which of my rewirement identities I want to share with you.