November 1, 1989, my retirement day. Some say that aging is an attitude of mind, and I add that it is an accumulation of things, events, experiences and decisions. In my life's rearview mirror, I see children and grandkids, at times, rushing around driving their parents crazy, and eventually finding their way in life. I see siblings starting to dream about an empty nest and retirement. I see our relatives and friends coping with the challenges aging brings, both financially and health-wise.
When I can drag myself away from worrying about my own ailments and financial situation, I realize how fortunate I am. Being concerned and pessimistic about the future is normal?
Like the rest of the aging population, my priority is to simplify my life — not an easy task. I discover new challenges every day, as my ability to function as I previously did no longer applies.
Entering into retirement, illness and death are all too familiar. I can't live in a cloud ignoring the aging process. I have friends and family who have experienced severe illness and have seen how they handled it. It is naive not to anticipate that bad things can happen to each of us! The one true fact of life is that no one gets out of this world alive.
So, what do I do with the rest of my life? Every direction I look, there is a need for volunteers. It is essential that I reach out and find something I can do for others on a regular basis; expecting nothing in return. My reward will be invaluable, happiness in helping others.
The clock is ticking. So, do I look life in the eye and go for it, or, do I peep around each corner every morning anticipating something terrible is about to happen?
Everyone has their own ideas about the perfect life. Some want to travel to exotic places, some want to stay at home. Some want to write the next great novel, and others to paint a masterpiece. Not me.
My wife and I have had the good fortune to retire early in good health and adequate income for our freedom to live comfortably. What brings us the most pleasure? There are still a few things involving travel that we would like to do, including visiting family and friends, home and abroad. We can live very busy lives just spending time with the people we love.
Another thing that makes us feel good is to greet everyone that we meet with a smile and respect. This includes strangers, people that we see only occasionally, and also others who are clearly in need of help. Our decision is to acknowledge all with a smile and hopefully a comment to make them laugh. It costs us nothing, but we will have made another human being realize that they are alive and acknowledged. Every time? Of course not, but is that relevant? If we only make one person in ten feel better, it is worth it to us.
I feel blessed by the life I have lived; many people have not had my good fortune. All of us, if we are being honest, can take little credit for the successes we have had or for the disasters. Good fortune may not have smiled on everyone, so why not feel sympathy for those who have less than us?
So, am I looking forward to a more enjoyable retirement? You bet. Every day I learn something new, usually an alternative way of managing some necessary and no longer viable physical activity. But, if I can look at my latest challenge and see it as a new opportunity, then I will never be bored or lost for something to do. I see the whole process as a good reason for some extra exercise.
I want to see, smell and hear as many of life's blessings as I can, while I can. I want to help others to enjoy life also.
February 11, 2021: I have tried to follow my own advice along the way, and came pretty close. Yes, I am looking back at 91 great and full years, including 31 in retirement, and looking forward to my 92nd birthday.
Fred Benton is a member of the Jottings Group at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
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