THIS THING CALLED RETIREMENT
To Be or Not to Be
By Nancy Patrick
What you know of me—
Evasive splinter of—
Who I am
By NANCY PATRICK
In 1962 when I was 12-years-old, Neil Sedaka released his hit song “Breaking up Is Hard to Do.” At that age, I had not even had a boyfriend, much less experienced any of life’s other difficult events. The passage of time has taught me more than I ever wanted to know about hard-to-do things, and the hardest for me relates to growing old.
In America, citizens first realize their entrance into the senior phase of life when at age 50 AARP sends them an invitation for membership. Until that moment, most of us had not realized we had passed the threshold from adulthood to senior adulthood. Suddenly, we become aware of more deference from wait staff and business personnel. Some of them ask if we have a senior discount while others call some of us lucky ones “Sweetie” or “Darlin’.” Even doctors begin an explanation of a diagnosis with the ominous words “at your age.”
Another warning of our impending dotage includes all the government reminders that our 65th birthday looms around the corner. We must register for Medicare and Social Security. Don’t get me wrong—I’m thankful for these programs; I just hadn’t expected the jolt to my self-esteem.
And how long does old age last? I know many people in their 90s and several who have attained 100+ years. That means the ones who will have the most longevity could be old for 50 years! Considering these prospects, how do we prepare for such a possibility?
The answer for many lies in continuing their jobs for as long as their minds and bodies function appropriately. For others, it means retirement. Most people look forward to retirement during their careers, but some have difficulty figuring out what to do with the next years of life. I recently read Jim Michaels’ column “When It Comes to Retirement, I’m with Cicero” in the Jan. 11, 2019, Wall Street Journal. He provided some thought-provoking ideas about retirement that he gleaned from Cicero’s 44 B.C. advice in “Cato Maior de Senectute.”
Cicero’s basic precept suggests that retirement frees us from the pressures of a job. Those pressures include competition, expectations, and social value based on work performance. Other benefits of age include freedom from youthful lust, jealousy, strife, and feelings of inferiority. Age and retirement can provide the time for solitude, self-awareness, development of new passions, and selflessness in which we have the time and inclination to help others.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet struggled not with old age but with a dilemma faced by many seniors. Hamlet’s famous soliloquy “to be or not to be” shows his struggle between choosing life or death. His “being” rested on his inability to do what he felt he should do. The struggle between being and doing permeates our culture. From an early age, we hear the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” That really means “what do you want to do when you grow up?” And that means “what job do you want to do to earn your living and place in society?”
Consequently, when we find ourselves aging and/or in retirement, the realization strikes us again but in a different format—“What are you going to be (or do) in retirement?” The answer to this question fundamentally determines whether we experience fulfillment or frustration in our senior years. If the answer relates to “doing,” we may become overwhelmed with an endless list of volunteering opportunities, leaving us just as tired and stressed as our jobs did.
If, however, the answer is “being,” prepare yourself for some wonderful opportunities with grateful people. Whatever you “do,” let it express your “being.” For example, if you deliver meals, you “are” helpful. If you read to a blind person, you “are” sympathetic. If you give money to people and worthy organizations, you “are” generous. The list goes on. We need to focus on the motive for our actions, for those motives describe our being, which manifests in many forms of action.
Old age is not a picnic. One of my friends who lived well into her 90s loved to say, “Old age ain’t for sissies.” That statement rings true, but just as all other aspects of our lives (conception, infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood) have their times, so does old age. The writer of Ecclesiastes in Chapter 3 refers to all facets of life as “times to. . . .” When I come to my “time to die,” I pray that I will do it with grace, thankfulness, appreciation, and an understanding that God created and loved my “being.”
Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing.