August 8, 2008

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Polish up those tarnishing golden years

Cynthia DewesRetirees are fond of saying they are so busy, they don’t know how they ever had time to go to work before they left the ranks of the employed.

For one thing, they have usually lived long enough to accumulate numbers of friends, relatives, “grands” and “greats” who need more and more attention.

In addition, they now have the time to do what they have always said they would do “when they had time.” These goals include things like volunteering for worthy causes or cleaning the garage or writing their memoirs.

There are perks to retirement, of course: going to bed and getting up whenever you feel like it without the constraints of shift hours or other obligations on your time, watching mindless television shows or reading a book straight through just because you can, or spending all day in the garden communing with nature.

There is not having to buy work clothes or eat lunch out every day or pay for downtown parking. There is more freedom to associate only with people you enjoy rather than colleagues or bosses or clients you are not fond of. To put it nicely. And now you are at liberty to write, say, photograph or otherwise produce any dang thing you feel like, without hewing to a party line or a corporate image.

On the other hand, your income is usually a fixed amount, a pension, a Social Security check, whatever. It will never grow much and you will not get another raise or a bonus. It is also an amount that seems to be dwindling, due to corporate failures or political incompetence. Still, you can boost retirement income with part-time jobs, freelance or contract work. And there is always McDonald’s.

There are certain ironies to retirement, in addition to shrinking income just when you need it most. One is health.

Sometimes, even if you have taken reasonable care of your body, you may come up with chronic ailments that limit your abilities to enjoy your newfound freedom. Even if you have enough time and money, you may not be able to go skiing or travel or baby-sit the new guys in the family.

But then, aren’t there ironies to any stage in life? It’s ironic that you are often too clueless or just plain immature to make the most of your youth. It’s ironic that haste or lust disguised as love causes you to choose the wrong marriage partner and eventually wind up damaging yourselves and your kids.

And it’s ironic that you enter a profession or take a job motivated by greed or a need for social status, only to find yourself unhappy, in therapy or fired. Most of all, it’s ironic that you often ignore those who love you most in favor of gaining attention from those who don’t even know or care who you are.

Of course, by the time you’re retired, you’ve learned from all these ironies. The difference is that before retiring you think of the future as endless. You tend to put off the hard stuff until—hello! You’re there, and every utterance may be your famous last words.

So, I figure you should make the most of it. All those sappy urgings you have heard to “stop and smell the roses” actually apply now. Most retirees have more time than anything else, so let’s use it to assess and reconsider how you are living. Don’t beat yourself up over the past, but enjoy whatever present is left. And remember that the future is eternally with God.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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