I recently read a really neat article about Bob Wolff, the legendary sports announcer who has been inducted into both The Baseball and Basketball Halls of Fame. The article focused on how it came about that fate provided him the good fortune to announce Don Larsen’s historic perfect game in the 1956 World Series. All very interesting, but what attracted my attention is that Bob, now almost 90, is still an active broadcaster. In fact, he is the longest running sportscaster in history! Naturally, to be so recognized required that two things occur; he is blessed with a long life and healthy life, and he had not retired. Clearly, the author of the article recognized the insights Bob gained due to the remarkable span of his career, “His career longevity gives him a unique perspective on how the art of calling games has adapted to changing times and technologies.” Some folks aren’t as perceptive.
I have passed the commonly accepted retirement age. In fact I have trampled all over it! I am actively employed with no expectation of stopping soon. No need to take my preference to a shrink’s couch; I am not in denial and am exquisitely aware of the transience nature of my worldly existence. Actually, I’m having a pretty healthy dialogue with my mortality, trying always to treat aging with a light touch. As partial proof, I would refer you to the following passage from my book, Humanity at Work; Encouraging Spirit, Achievement and Truth to Flourish in the Workplace, (Chapel Hill Press 2008).
“Some years ago Jean and I attended a seminar on the topic of conscious aging. One morning Ram Dass, the teacher, told the following story:
A train on which he often traveled gave a senior citizen’s discount. Having just turned 65 and eager to try out his new perquisite, he informed the train’s conductor that he was eligible for the discount. The conductor, apparently with no further due diligence, granted his request! In addressing the conference, Ram Dass lamented the fact that when he turned 21 and requested an alcoholic beverage, he was upset and offended that barkeepers regularly demanded proof of age. Now having journeyed nearly a lifetime, he was just as upset that no proof of age was sought! My day of iniquity took place one day after turning 55. I can still recall vividly every aspect of this tragic encounter! It was a Tuesday, at precisely 5:48 p.m. I stopped at the local supermarket to purchase some groceries. As I was checking out, the cashier, completely unprompted, proclaimed for my benefit that “Tuesday is senior-citizen discount day and if you are 55, you qualify!” In an effort to soften the assault on my ego, the cashier added quickly that she wasn’t certain I was eligible but would be delighted to apply the discount if I was. “Are you, Sir?” To this day I am positive the cashier pretended not to think I was old enough as her compassionate reaction to the shock chiseled on my face! Understand, I had been a customer of this store for years. But one day after my 55th birthday, the aging process seemed to be traveling at warp speed, the accelerator nailed to the floor the moment my life was two score and 15 years. I told the cashier that I did not qualify—at least in spirit. The plain fact, I explained in my defense, is that my gray beard (actually, it’s almost white) is but a cruel genetic joke rather than a faithful biological barometer of my age. Know that I have never again entered that store on a Tuesday. In fact, I’ve told my beloved Jean, who is younger than I and still looks like the bride I married, that I would rather forego eating on the second day of the week than chance another inquiry as to my age.”
If you grab a dictionary, not surprisingly the first definition of “retire” is withdrawing from an occupation. But check out some of the other definitions, they aren’t too rosy; moving back from contact with others; to bow out (wow, that sounds grim); to withdraw as for rest or seclusion; to take one out of circulation. You get the picture. Know that a lot of my friends were delighted to shed their work lives and are happily retired. None the less, we need a cultural acquiescence that retiring is not for everyone; that reaching retirement age does not set off the alarm on life’s time clock triggering retirement as a condition precedent to living out “the golden years”. Rather, let’s engineer a societal readjustment so you can choose to die with your boots on. But if you decide to cease an active work life, may we devise a more nurturing and realistic tag line. In that way entering retirehood will be viewed as a productive place to be, rather than it being misperceived as a gated community for the semi-somnolent!
My friends, retirement is a decision that should be grounded in our emotional well-being, and not on some antiseptic cultural belief. However the analysis is structured it should never equate to withdrawing from life. Referring again to my book, “. . . the decision of how I conduct my earthly affairs is contingent upon one irrefutable fact! The Lord has already deeded me more breaths of life than He will in the future.” Does this mean my ever decreasing stockpile of mortal breaths are more valuable than those expended? Of course not, as Storm Jackson observed every minute of our lives is “an unrepeatable miracle.” Each a miracle and certainly unrepeatable.
Whether you retire or not, there should never be a moment that you are not celebrating the miraculous gift of life and the wonders it spawns. May you find every stage of your existence in all ways meaningful; even if that doesn’t comport with conventional social norms or expectations.