A couple of months back, one of my college friends mentioned she’s retiring from her law-enforcement job, having put twenty or thirty years in. Another friend, who retired some time back, is looking forward to touring the country with her husband now that her mother-in-law has passed and no longer needs them to care for her.
A number of other friends my age have retired and either started new careers or settled down to travel and visit the kids and grandkids a lot. All of which got me thinking about how the idea that we pass through clearly mapped out stages in life doesn’t have much relationship to actual life.
I remember an article some years back in which the writer said that when he was a kid in the 1950s (I think he must have been about ten years older than me), the stages had been clearly marked. First you were a kid, then a teenager, and that phase was all about fun. Then you became a man and put away childish things, and were serious. As the title put it, “Ozzie Nelson Never Owned a Dirt Bike” (Ozzie being the star and patriarch of hit sitcom Ozzie and Harriet). But the writer, even though he’d hit forty, still used his.
Even in my own youth, the sense was that when you got old — i.e., the age I am now — you stopped doing stuff. You retired sat in a rocking chair or a hammock, watched TV, lived quietly.You didn’t keep working. You didn’t start second careers.
I’m 60, but I’m still working. Even though my work isn’t physical it’s possible the deterioration of age will sideline me long before I want to be, but until that point, I’m happy to keep writing. And TYG is a good deal younger, which changes the calculus too. Even I hung up my spurs, we wouldn’t start traveling the world or anything like that (quite aside from not wanting to leave the dogs for too long). And of course, I don’t have kids, and didn’t marry until I was 53. My path has always been a little off the theoretical norm.
I’m not suggesting I’ve found the one true path to living as an old person. Some people, like my traveling friend, do just want to relax, and that’s cool (I know how hard she and her husband worked when they had jobs. She’s earned it). Lots of people don’t have the physical ability to keep doing what they’re doing; for them, sixty is the new sixty.
But even knowing that, noticing how my path deviates from the expected still gives me pause.
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