What are the chapters of our lives?
For some it might look like childhood (0-12), teen (13-18), young adult (19-34?), middle aged (35-50?), and retired. Of course each of these can be further subdivided and age ranges are average and can widely vary.
Now, each of these first four stages of life may represent 10-15 years each, give or take. The younger you are on this continuum, the more you are eager to move on to the next stage. Of course the definitions of the latter two seem to be in constant flux.
“Adulting” is a long stretch of time. The time you begin to live self-sufficiently, working, and paying your bills, until retirement, can involve many years and many long hours in the workplace. During these years we may marry, have children, advance in a career, and find ourselves on a hamster wheel. Soon after entering these adult years, we may initially yearn for the easier, simpler times of dependency on our parents over the benefits of independence; but as we age, those golden years of retirement start looking very tempting– that is if we have saved and planned to make retirement a financial reality.
[If you are in the earlier stages of “adulting,” the best advice I can give you is: 1) have a budget and always pay yourself first–aka save money from each paycheck for your future; better yet, start an IRA or other retirement savings plan, and don’t touch it! 2) Establish credit, but don’t run up your debt! 3) Live within your means (once again, this where a budget is necessary; if you want a new car, an exotic trip, or a designer bag, budget for it and try to limit debt in your life to mortgage and car payment), and 4) stay humble by helping those less fortunate–this would include a line in your budget for donating or tithing. Act Justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.]
These days, that last chapter can be the longest of all. Another moving target, over the years it could start as young as 50 and as late as you please. The definition is murkier as well. In the US, the average age of retirement is currently 63 (one year after Social Security retirement can be taken). Since the average death rate in the US now stands at approximately 79, that gives the average American about 16 years in retirement. In many cases it can be longer.
My father retired at 55. I mean, completely retired. He had some hobbies like golf, boating, and fishing, and he enjoyed tinkering around the house. But he left the world for all intents and purposes and created a new world, with my mother at his side. Dad was never one to put anyone before his own needs, and that included Mother. Exercise, eating healthy, or drinking in moderation wasn’t even a consideration– it’s taken its toll on his health. Charity and volunteer work were never part of his life. He was always consumed with making sure he got what was due him. My mother died 7 years ago, and Dad realized too late he hadn’t appreciated what he had; his health and mental acuity has declined. He is a recluse. For 30 years, dad did nothing that didn’t accrue benefit to himself. He was always frugal and he has always been concerned about his money. Money, amassing and hording it was a priority. And he is a very unhappy person.
He inadvertently taught me a valuable lesson.
SJ also retired at 55. I was just a few years older than that. Fortunately we’ve always been the type to stay busy with volunteer work and in our church. Money is necessary, and we made sure to save it and invest it (SJ is wonderful at this) so that we could pay for our kids’ college, give to God and charity, take care of our own needs, and have a nest egg that could take us through this final chapter of our lives. But money for the sake of money, or the identification of “rich” or “conspicuous consumption” has never been our thing. We believe that all we have is from God, and the belief that we should work hard and not expect hand-outs. We don’t pray for money or riches (prosperity Gospel), nor do we love money; we pray for good health, good relationships, protection for ourselves and others, and the means to live life with as few concerns and stress as possible (knowing full well that God will regularly bring trials into our lives, which we should count as “all joy” in that it strengthens and matures us).
We are among the youngest “retirees” that we know; we actually don’t much like referring to ourselves that way (it tends to illicit judgment of a sort; perhaps it’s envy for some). We purposely decided at the beginning of this retirement chapter to return to the city in which I used to live, to spend two years enjoying this area. It’s been a blast. We’ve enjoyed history and beautiful sights; we’ve gotten involved in some volunteer activities and in our church. I’ve done a little part time work. We’ve been able to travel, near and far. We take care of elderly parents from afar. And now, it’s time for a new adventure: we have found where we want to build our “forever home” on earth. Mountains, lake, rivers, seasons, proximity to airports. Away from the busy hustle-bustle of bigger city life. Our kids are on their own now. We do hope that we will get to be part of their adult lives, and future grandchildren, but right now they are in that stage of breaking ties and starting their own lives. Parents are extraneous (until your car needs work and you can’t afford it…).
But there’s a determination that this chapter won’t be sedate or a downhill coast for us. If anything I’d love it to be the best chapter yet.
We still have a few months before we settle into our new locale and find our plan, purpose, and passion: ways to give back to the community, involvement in a new church. New friends. Entertaining old friends who will hopefully visit. Activities to do together (I’m looking forward to kayaking, dream of having another small sailboat; skiing with a senior pass would be pretty radical, continuing yoga; he loves the many wooded trails for running and hiking, a place to work out, and the presence of a small university). There’s the continuing challenging to continue to learn to live contentedly together in such close proximity, to find our separate interests, and appreciate each other. If there’s a little passion sprinkled in, so much the better (interestingly, as we age we need to be very intentional about this). We need to appreciate the gift of these extra years (we have seen way too many friends our age and younger succumb to cancer and other diseases). Live or die… these are the options. We need to chose to live big.
Love your chapter, make the most of it. There’s no going back, no do-overs.