Tree of Life

Decisions are harder since we’ve turned sixty. What do we do now? What road do we turn down next? How do we define a successful retirement, our last chapters?

When we lost my job two months ago it dawned on me that in less than a year I could collect Social Security, the retiree’s safety net. It’s called a net for those of us with too little savings and too many dreams. I had not given it any thought until then. I had liked working and thought I would work until I was mid-sixties or seventy. I had enjoyed working. It changed for both Pam and me. Neither of us wanted to put up with the bullshit of the great American workplace any longer. Pam has enjoyed helping people while a nurse. She has tired though of only helping the people at the top of the medical heap. I have soured on meeting the smartest people in the room. The middle-to-top managers in mental health agencies who needed to use me and others as fodder are a tiring lot.

Our friends did what our parents did. They put in their 25 or 35 years in safe jobs. Now with safe pensions and safely-paid-for houses and safe grandchildren and safe friends, their decisions are secure. They will decide whether to eat whole grain or
Ramen, whether to walk four or five miles today, whether to bike with their helmet on or off, and which River Cruise to take next year.

Our choices seem starker. We can circle the wagons and work the jobs left to us for another six to nine years. We can define success every year as living just a little bit longer. Ending our days in a nice nursing home where kids and aides spoon food into our empty shell. We know friends, friends of friends, and our parents fighting disease with the latest medical technology. Safely tucked inside the warm glow of computer screens as we read about cancers and wars. We learn and confirm which dangers lurk where. We know that delaying our Social Security checks will help them grow incrementally. I have crunched the numbers over and over. This increased income, this seven percent solution, does not answer our questions though. When will we have enough to retire?

We have enough now if we are brave enough to die well. If we are willing to own less and enjoy it more, if we are willing to risk our perceived security and willing to live with change. We have enough now to quit this mindless work with the inconsiderate. The good nursing home solution bores me nearly to dementia. We have to redefine retirement in order to end life successfully. Our seven percent solution lies in believing that we have about seven percent of our lives yet to live. We can truly start living if we want to make it the best seven percent yet.

And so Pam and I have come to our sixty-year-old decision tree, the tree of life perhaps.

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