I’ve read that more and more Americans are working later in life — 60s, 70s, even 80s. In some cases, service gives these people a sense of purpose and a reason to live. In others, it’s a way to escape a not-so-retiring spouse. And I daresay healthcare plays a role, too. The Scylla and Charybdis of insatiable greed — medical and insurance companies — are enough to give anyone considering a career in rest and relaxation pause.
Me, I plan to buck the trend. Just as kindergarten kids should be allowed to learn via play (as opposed to getting homework and — gasp — standardized tests), this retired person will get to work on his own terms. The payment will come in satisfaction as opposed to pay stubs.
OK. Maybe I’m kidding myself, but indulge me for a moment. Shouldn’t retirement serve as a new lease on life, a second beginning, a license to do what circumstances have, until this point, disallowed? If I want to take a course at a college, I will. If I want to take piano or French lessons again, why not? And if I want to put more time, effort, and seriousness into my writing, Godspeed.
That’s what retirement should be. You wake up. You go to work as always. But you have only yourself to answer to.
This arrangement is already auditioning in the wings. I’m reading a book called Why Homer Matters because, at long last, he does. Homer himself had nothing to do with it. In fact, he’s waited patiently for me to be ready. And I am. And so Homer can wine-dark see for himself. I even ordered Robert Fagles’ translation of The Odyssey to read this summer after school ends. Dead Greeks know you mean business when you choose epics for beach reads. And “studies” like this will become the norm, once I’m done with teaching.
I’ve also been steady about sending poetry out. In fact, May 2015 has been my best month yet — five (count ’em, FIVE) poems published in a single month. The good news: This is a record. The bad news: I probably won’t match it for some time.
Whatever. Our hopes for ourselves as future retired persons are similar to our hopes for ourselves as young men and women. We dream big. We plan unrealistically. We want to learn, create, give. We want to eat well, exercise well, love well. And, just as we did as children, we have little regard for the Grim Reaper. He remains hypothetical, a gadfly attracted to others, even as he’s “getting warmer” in his search.
And so, like so many before me, I face the equation. Do you retire sooner, bent on enjoying a maximum number of remaining years and damning the tyranny of money? Or do you retire later, making sure you never feel the yoke of poverty and need in the last great gasp called life in the twilight?
It’s Robert Frost all over again. Yellow woods. And, damn them all to lovely hell, ever-diverging paths…