As of this writing, I am a 62-year-old black man living in New York City. I am not trying to brag. I am just telling you, my reader, my perspective in this article. I am not really a happy person right now as I will discuss later, but I feel that you need to know who something about the speaker here.
When I started my life, I noticed right away that my life was going to be spelled out in various phases, each with its own outlook. First, there was my life before I started school. Then, there was my time from kindergarten to eighth grade. After that, I experienced high school. College was the next step. That had its own phases, too. There were my undergraduate years. After that, I had my graduate years where I worked on my graduate and postgraduate work while I was working in my chosen profession. Now, I am nearly at the end of my career. That's right. I am about to face retirement.
Retirement, although it allows one to ignore the alarm if one still has one, is not an easy phase to accept or prepare for. In short, retirement means that one is in the very last stage of life. It may be long or it may be short, but it is definitely the last stage because the next stage that no one wants to talk about is death. Accepting retirement means that one has worked a great deal of their life and has nothing else to contribute except the wisdom one has picked up along the way. Accepting retirement also means that one is no longer needed by anyone. In my last few years, I have come to understand that when one goes for a job and the possible future employer has a choice between a fossil and some fresh, young blood, the newbie gets the job while the old timer is shown the door. That comes with the old age portion as one gets ready for retirement.
I remember reading about a culture within the Eskimo community where they would take their oldest individuals and place them on a huge chunk of ice and send them adrift in the ocean. Eventually, the ice would melt and its nearly frozen passenger would slip into the icy waters and die. I guess that was their way to send a message to the elderly that they were no longer needed around a vibrant, but young society. Hopefully, this practice is no longer done, but subconsciously, we are still doing it to the elderly today. I should know. I am about to become elderly one day if I am allowed to reach 100.
Mind you, I am not complaining about getting old. I am very glad that I was able to live even this long. I constantly think about those in my life who did not even live one-third of my life. I was fortunate to see the beginning of my 60s. There are times when I will sit down, take out my wallet, and rummage through it for my old age membership cards. That's right! I have old age membership cards. They consist of my AARP card (American Association of Retired People), my AAA card (Automobile Association of America), my New York State Medicaid card, and a pharmacy card. I always wondered if I was to ever own them. Now I own them and carry them with me everywhere. You don't get these when you are a teenager or a college student. You start getting them as soon as someone somewhere has determined that you are getting closer to the day when you will be looking up at the daisies instead of looking down at the daisies. You discover you are old when filling out the age question, the last box may say "35+__". It's a bit unnerving at first, but you gradually start to accept that this is going to be your new age group, pal.
Old age is supposed to come with respect. We are really supposed to be oracles, but we are not treated that way. As a teacher, I had some trouble with a youngster in one of my classes. I was 60 at the time and he was a snarky little 13 year old boy. The situation involved a meeting with his Dad and the principal in the latter's office. During our conference, the smart mouthed individual said something to the tune of, "I was just trying to do something, old man." Well, the father nearly flew across the table at him. I was angry as well and gladly stepped aside so that the Dad could smack some respect into him. There was an apology from the lad, but it left an indelible mark in my memory as to how I am seen as I walk around.
On another occasion at another school, I was approached by a child in a seventh grade class who inquired about my age. As I said before, I am not ashamed of my age, but I don't make much of a deal about it anymore. I simply responded, "Old enough."
I also have to remember that my hair also gives me away. Even though I can still go to a barbershop and get a full haircut, I also got gray hair rather early in life as well. I don't walk around with a cane, thank goodness, but I am not exactly a spring chicken anymore either. I used to be a very active individual in my earlier years. I loved baseball, judo, and bike racing. Sometimes, I even took up jogging. Back in 2011, I suffered a torn ACL in my left knee due to a serious fall at work. After three operations within 62 days, I ended up walking with crutches and a cane over a period of a year. After that, I ended up taking slow walks. I take my time when I walk. Why rush anymore? I probably could run or jog, but I am not willing to end up back in the hospital for another operation. That is very significant. I used to take long walks at times that even surprised me. Why? Because I was young. I remember walking all the way home from high school one day. That was nearly a twenty-mile trip just to save some bus fare. I walked from my job in the South Bronx to my Mom's job back in 1979 because I wanted to stretch my legs.We took the train home the rest of the way. I even walked from my college campus to home because... well, I still don't know why, but I did it anyway. Now, I don't do that unless I can take my car with me. I just hope that when I retire, I don't lose my memory and take a walk. I wouldn't know where I am going and I certainly would not know how to get back home either.
I watched my parents. Dad died at 83. Mom died three years later at 84. In addition to their failing health—both bravely fought cancer—they also battled memory problems. Both may have suffered from dementia. When it may have started was not clear to me, but the signs were very present. You could see by telltale signals that the memory was beginning to short out. This became clearly evident to me when I was recuperating in a rehab facility one day after my ACL surgery. My Dad called me 6 times within a span of 30 minutes. Each time after the first call, I had to remind him that he just called me. He did not realize it, but I knew the bigger picture. Mom was just as bad. It was then that I realized that memory loss could be hereditary. At this point in time, I hope that I am wrong because I live alone.
The other thing that one needs to address with retirement is finances. How is one to get money in order to survive? I've begun looking into my Social Security information. Having worked from age 22 as a teacher until recently, I discovered that I will get a paltry sum of money. It will do until I can get myself into a better situation. Some credit card company once used the slogan, "Membership has its benefits." When you retire at age 62+, you should NEVER be taxed again. From the age you started working, you started paying taxes. When you retire, you should get back ALL of the money that you put into the system or they should sustain your payments until the Grim Reaper takes you for your final ride. Do you hear that, Washington, D.C.?
There are some good things that happen when you retire. You get all sorts of hidden perks. At my former barber, I got a discount on my haircuts. While other guys paid for a $15 haircut, I was quoted a $10 price. I didn't complain. Sometimes, people hold doors open for you. Still, on other occasions, people ask for your viewpoint because they figure that you know more about something than anyone else in the room does.
I honestly do not know what I want to do when I fully retire. I am not one who likes to travel around the globe. The whole purpose behind retirement is to rest after working for 4+ decades. Constantly packing and unpacking clothes, running to catch planes or hop on boats and trying to cover so much territory just so that I can see so much territory is just too much work for me. That is why we have the internet. That way, I can visit France or England in the comfort of my living room. No, I want to stay at home and either play some music on my radio and on my trumpet. I want to sit, look out of my westward facing window and watch the sunset. I want to just sit back, relax, and contemplate my day. That is what retirement should be about. No longer will I listen to a wake up alarm. No longer will I have to warm up my car in order to get to a job.
The retirement phase is the only phase that has no predictable time period. You might be able to plan its start, but you can't plan its end. Unlike the previous phases where one knows a clear beginning and a clear end (eg: High school should only be four years long for a typical span), it can possibly start when we want, but death will always determine the end. I guess that is what retirement is about at times. How does one want to end the life stuff? They say that you should stay active. Again, weren't people active enough in the previous phases? I am not going to start running marathons. Nope. I want to relax and think back to my previous years.
In the retirement phase, I find that the one activity I do is look at cemeteries. No, I don't mean in the macabre way. I mean that I want to see where I'd like to spend my eternal resting phase. Some people think that it is weird, but they forget two things about the next phase. One usually does not prepare for it and one usually does not have a say in it. When going from high school to college, you get to decide where you want to go when you want to start. It is the same when you want to work if the job market is plentiful. However, from retirement to death, one may not get those two options. I, for one, decided to be different. I contacted my best friends and charged them with coming to my funeral and giving a speech about me-good, bad or indifferent. I chose three Catholic cemeteries that I would like to be placed. I picked out the church for my funeral Mass. I even have my suit ready. Yup. I am prepared for the next phase. Yes, I take preparations very seriously.
In closing, I am very glad for the life I have. Were there good times? Yes. Were there tough times? Yes. I took them all. Life is like a roller-coaster if you really think about it. It has its ups and downs once you get on the ride. That is why people get on them. They accept those ups and downs. That is why it is called a roller-coaster. Did you ever see a roller-coaster without ups and downs? Nope, because none exist on the planet. Life has its ups and downs. Like life, the roller-coaster has its phases, too. Once you board it and fasten your seat belt/safety bar, you get yourself ready for whatever the ride dishes out to you. There will be some sections that you will remember. There will be some sections that you will be able to handle. Of course, there will be sections that will also scare the daylights after you. Finally, there will be a section that will let you know that the ride is almost over. That is the retirement section. When you get off, your life....er......ride is over.
In closing, I have to think about the most famous Frank Capra movie title. It surely applies here. It's a Wonderful Life. It surely is.