The serendipity of being retired and remaining healthy and dementia-free.
I was driving around getting errands done today and tuned into a radio game show. A call-in contestant was asked what kind of work she did, and her response was, “Well, I’m retired, and I do as little as I can get away with.”
The audience and panel members laughed, but I couldn’t. The moderator said, “As in, ‘I’ve worked hard all my life and I’m done with that now’?”
“Exactly,” replied the contestant. I thought, “That’s retirement? ‘Do as little as I possibly can’?”
Comments such as this mystify me, even though I know that most of the time, they’re just meant to be cute. We all get the idea of not being forced to get up every morning to go to the same workplace every day and do the same work we’ve done for umpteen years.
“…what kind of business or pleasure ventures I can pursue that will give me zip and zing when I’m called ‘elderly.’”
I also know this is how some people truly feel. They want the luxury of doing nothing. They want to sleep until noon, get dressed (maybe) around 2:00, run to the grocery store if necessary, watch TV as late as they please. But I can’t imagine this, and I can’t believe anyone would like to do this for years on end. If one retires at 62 and has a family history of long-lived relatives, this nothingness is what one will be doing for about 30 years.
Every study and statistical review of what makes for a life of quality into the last third of life tells us that those who are active, who enjoy strong connections to family and/or friends, who exercise and stay stimulated and continue to learn, are those who are most likely to remain healthy and dementia-free to the last. Those who retire with a plan —maybe just a shadow of a plan, but an indication that some thought has been given to this transition — find an energy and vigor that sustain them in ways unknown to those who do as little as possible.
Doing little has the paradoxical effect of making a person more tired. When there’s not a lot for which to get out of bed, there’s no outside force compelling people to move. People have to decide to move. They have to decide to be engaged. They have to take authority over themselves and tell their bodies what’s going to happen, because if they don’t, the body will begin to take authority over the mind simply because no one’s running the show. (I am speaking of those who do not face challenging health issues.) Idleness really can be crippling. It is like kudzu, slowing choking off reality, causing one to think, “I’m too old,” even when one is surrounded by examples to the contrary.
Every single time someone in their 80s travels abroad or takes up skydiving; every time a 90 year-old finishes authoring yet another book; every time a man or woman in their 70s starts some kind of missionary work in another country, or takes in foster children, or gets on a Trikke and finds a new way to stay fit, we are confronted with the truth that people decide how they will spend their last few decades. Their fate may be decided for them in that they do not consciously select what ignites their passions, but they decide to let that passion fuel them — or not.
I’m planning now what I will do when the time comes to do something else, something that will keep me engaged and excited when whatever it is “retirement” means is upon me. I’m thinking of what kind of business or pleasure ventures I can pursue that will give me zip and zing when I’m called “elderly.”
Of course, I expect to be zipping and zinging around on a Trikke. That goes without saying, doesn’t it?