One of my first memories about retirement was when a rancher in my home town quit riding every day when he was 85 years old. A year later he was dead. My father talked about it as though the rancher’s retirement was a death warrant. It shaped my attitude about retirement, in that there was something vaguely morally wrong about stopping going to work every day.
I have been retired since March 2011 and have two jobs. What is interesting about my attitude about retirement is that I acquired it from my father who retired at age 65 and never worked another day. I really do not know how he made the transition to retirement as he never in his life talked about his feelings. I do know he made regular trips to his old workplace. I have been back three times, once to get some paperwork signed.
That 85 year old rancher? He probably stopped riding because he was too old to keep it up every day. We get old and weak, especially at 85. I retired at age 68, and I am not as strong and vigorous as when I was 25, but I do pretty well. I can ride my bicycle, walk, hike, and work. I want to keep that up.
The problem at retirement is that all my life I have in part defined myself by what I do at work. Most men in our culture do, which is why unemployment is so devastating for many men. Now, I have two jobs, but one of them pays $9.00/hour and the other $12.00/hour. Does that define my worth to society, to be near the bottom of the wage heap? My various pensions and savings are irrelevant in calculating my wage earner worth. I have moved from the middle class to the working class in terms of my earning potential, so I am worth less as a person. Or so I think, using that warped value system I have inherited.
The other problem I am facing in retirement is finding meaning in my life. Am I just a drag on society, collecting my pensions (I have four) and Medicare, thus robbing younger taxpayers of the same opportunities I have enjoyed? Are we geezers worth anything other than sitting in the coffee shop talking about our latest surgery? What meaning is there as an elder in a youth oriented society? Do my two jobs, writing for this blog, taking care of the household and caregiving for others make me worthwhile to keep around or am I just superfluous?
Sounds like an existential crisis, doesn’t it? Fitting for a product of the existential generation, raised on Sartre, Camus, Updike, Mailer, Salinger, and all the others. The answer to problems like this is awareness and sitting in the mess, stewing, thinking, and squirming, until the answer presents itself. I am stewing and doing my best to stay aware (with a bit too much Angry Birds). The answer probably involves engagement, but I am not yet sure what it is.