As we all can see, the baby boomer generation is now nearing retirement age even as that same generation and their offspring become more obsessed with youth. This week Siggy has two essays on ageing that got me thinking about several people I’ve had the privilege of knowing throughout my life. All these people are too old to be baby boomers.
In his first essay Siggy says
Still, no matter how ferocious attempt to obviate nature, time will not be denied. The devotion to youth upends those who chase what will soon represent the lesser part of our lives. At 40 we enter middle age. At 50, we are reminded that there are those in the wings who are waiting for us to give way, for no other reason than our experiences and wisdom are of less value than youth. Mandatory retirement is no gift or recognition or achievement. It is the conclusion of a process that institutionalizes a process of inactivity and decline at an age when most of us have the capacity, wisdom and insight to be most productive.
While economies need to make way for new employees since at any give time there is a limited number of jobs available and new workers are less expensive than workers with more seniority, societies lose when the more experienced workers are discarded simply because the calendar turned one day.
Siggy also states,
Or are meant to contribute something meaningful and lasting? If we understand that our legacy will be measured in how we left this world a better and more meaningful place, then it becomes immediately apparent that our maturity, wisdom and insight are of far greater value than our physicality. When this truth is realized, the maturity, wisdom and spirituality of those with the experiences of life under their belts more than compensates for their diminished physicality. As our physicality declines, our priorities are reevaluated and ordered- and that usually results in making the four cubits we inhabit and beyond, a better place.
I have met several people who lived to a very advanced age precisely because they didn’t retire.
The youngest of my parents’ siblings to die lived past age seventy (and he had burned the candle at both ends and the middle), the oldest was at least 106 years old, so genetics has a lot to do with how long you live. How well you live has a lot to do with you.
I learned this at a young age from several people, one of which I’ll tell you about now.
When I was first married my husband and I went to his college reunion along with my in-laws since my father-in-law had graduated from the same college exactly thirty years earlier. They went off to some activity or another and I was left by myself enjoying a beautiful day, having lunch at a picnic table. A very elderly gentleman came by and asked if he could join me. Of course I said yes.
He was one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met.
He could walk about as long as it was on pavement, but because we were on a lawn he was on a wheelchair. He told me that he of course knew that the reunion was on and wasn’t sure he could make it since had recently been inconvenienced by some ailment, but since he was fine now he wasn’t about to miss it. He lived in Princeton (where I now live) which is some 300 miles from the college.
Aside from his charm and intelligent conversation, what I learned from him was that one’s work is never finished, and that that is a very good thing.
This gentleman was the oldest member of his family still to be involved in the family business, a very large multinational pharmaceutical company. He had through the years been intimately involved in the business even as chairman of the board, and had decided to step aside when he felt that he could not give his job 100% (later on I learned from another board member that he had insisted on stepping aside in spite of the board’s recommendation that he stay). But he didn’t go off to fade into the sunset.
Instead what he did was to become involved in projects that the company had with non-profit and community outreach organizations, and with the college (which we were visiting) and its students.
I realized right then that that was exactly why he was so vital, so interesting. His purpose was what gave his life meaning.
While this may sound like a real dozer of a conversation, he was witty, funny, and quick. So witty that it wasn’t until an hour later or so after our conversation that I realized that it was he who had donated the building for the school’s student union.
Mind you, the gentleman in question wasn’t simply another old codger bragging about his work. He was clearly happy to be there, he was enjoying the good food and the cold beer, the beautiful day, the company of a young woman who was totally absorbed in what he had to say. His conversation was not a long list of things he had done; instead it was a series of replies to my questions (since he was a great deal more interesting than I and he had a lot to say), replies which he peppered with humor, puns (and you all know how I love puns) and wit. He was well dressed, accompanied by a uniformed (attractive) nurse, and driven there in his luxury car by his chauffeur.
The guy knew how to live.
May we all learn to appreciate people like him. And may we all learn from people like him to enjoy the finer things in life.
More on aging (and a lot of other topics) in yesterday’s podcast.