by Jim Reed
It took me a mere 62 years to figure out why people retire.
Yep, for 62 years I thought to myself intermittently, "Why would anybody want to retire?" I equated retirement with indolence, with bored conversation-less married couples dining at Piccadilly Cafeteria each night, night after night.
Retirement meant watching too much TV and grimacing all the while, taking the garbage out a bit too often, and becoming obsessed with small patches of grass that must be trimmed at all cost. I felt that retirement would mean the end of all meaningful brain activity. Ossification would set in and Iíd find myself slowly becoming something horrible, like a Republican or a Neighborhood Watch captain, walking around the neighborhood in khaki shorts and flip-flops and giving neighbors with noisy dogs the evil eye.
I figured Iíd wind up watching the Ďhood all the time, waiting for something to complain about, gazing much too much at the Weather Channel and announcing loudly to all who would eventually not listen, the latest weather possibilities, "They say we might get snow next week!"
I pictured retired people as people who had given up the good fight, stopped believing they could change the world, resigned themselves to spending way too much time spoiling grandkids and in so doing, irritating the parents of grandkids. I vowed Iíd never join AARP, the worldís largest private health insurance lobby. I said I would never wear a bad toupee or say, "The kids these days!"
I even pictured retirees as people who not only had stopped making love but who had ceased even having sex.
My biggest fear was that I would be treated the same way I had inadvertently treated older people much of my younger life. That pudgy little woman with the cane couldnít have anything interesting to talk about. Sheíd never been young and beautiful and full of dreamy dreams. That comb-over guy wearing the 30-year-old sports jacket hadnít had anything new or interesting to say since he bought that sport coat. Those folks who needed assistance in getting over the obstacles we all placed in their wayóstairs, curbs, restaurant menus with small print, poorly lit movie aislesóthose folks just got in the way sometimes.
Iíd never be like them! Iíd take care of myself and make sure I didnít get bald or dumpy or out of shape.
Well, you know the end of this story, and you know, in the recesses of your mind, that you will reach the end of this story just like I have.
Iíve become a Senior Citizen, and if youíre lucky (?), you will, too.
Now, I can accept all the hilarious little bad jokes that nature has played on me, my mind, and my body. What I havenít been able to adjust to, until recently, is the giving up of projects that might have changed the world.
I spent nearly eight years and a couple of thousand hours, trying to improve race relations in Birmingham. I realize now that I canít improve anything, but I can work on myself. I stopped going to race relations meetings and vowed to start meeting people one-on-one, just to enjoy them and learn from them. I lost the battle but I won back my self-reliance.
Iíve tried to help artists and writers who donít know how talented they are, to own that talent and love it. I donít do this through committees anymore. I teach classes and make speeches on the subject anywhere anybody will invite me: schools, nursing homes, civic clubs, writersí groups, art organizations. I have more fun this way, just doing what I want to do without having to create a stressful infrastructure.
Iíve learned that you can do wonderful things as a volunteer, but I have also learned that you canít do much by trying to get other volunteers to do things your way. My rant about this is oft-repeated: "Volunteers! You canít kill them. You canít make them do anything. But once in a while, they will decide to do something and you have to remember to be grateful for what they did. At your best, you also have to remember to thank them for what they did."
This should be displayed on plaques in every volunteer organization in the country.
I have learned that I no longer have to strut or try to look younger than I am, because itís perfectly obvious to everybody that I have achieved geezer status. Some of that is kind of nice. True, most younger people look right through me, as if I couldnít possibly be important to their lives. But some of them, a few, actually realize that I do know stuff and can help them think through things. Those who take the time seem delighted with my company, and I draw hope and ideas and energy from being with them. Something else: I no longer shun older people, because I know that, to them, I am the younger person and can learn something from their added weathering. In turn, they seem to get a kick out of my attentiveness.
So, I guess Iíve got some good from becoming old.
There are not too many advantages to getting on up there in years, but there are some nice perks:
1. I am no longer expected to lift heavy objects or fix things or help people move. I donít get dirty looks when I sit down before everybody else. I even feel un-self-conscious enough to quietly excuse myself and go read a book.
2. I can see things in cycles nowósomething you canít do when youíre young. When youíre young and having an anxiety attack, you just know the world is coming to an end and that you will not last the day. But when youíre my age and have just had your 421st anxiety attack (yes, you will never stop having them!), you suddenly say to yourself, "Hey, Iíve survived 420 of theseÖclick!ÖI think I just might survive this one, too!"
3. When youíre my age you are no longer suspected of having naughty thoughts, so this frees you up to have all the naughty thoughts you want, and not feel guilty about it.
4. As an S-word (Senior) Citizen, I can enjoy the impatience and impertinence of younger drivers. Itís fun to take my time and watch somebody elseís blood pressure go up for a change. The more that young whippersnapper honks his horn at me, the slower Iím going to drive. And heíll blame it on my age! Heh, heh, heh.
5. I can also pretend to forget stuff in order to get out of doing things I donít want to do. They think itís because my mind is going. Little do they know that my mind went a long time ago and Iím just having fun now!
Jim Reed is a native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama and makes his home in Birmingham. After a careers in broadcasting, higher education and public relations, Reed is an author, storyteller, speaker, columnist, humorist, rare book dealer and museum curator.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org© 2004, Jim Reed, All Rights Reserved