Robert Browning, English poet, in "Rabbi Ben Ezra," wrote these often-quoted lines:
"Grow old along with me,
The best is yet to be;
The last of life
For which the first was made."
Can we really consider retirement years "the best" of life? Much of it can depend on attitude. After working that magical "30+ years" or even more at a career, unless one prepares for the changes retirement brings, he/she may find a sense of vacancy and purposelessness entering life. Retirement years, for some, are considered a time when life's work is finished and the person is no longer useful to himself or those around him.
Right attitude can mean that the retiree embraces the years remaining in life. Retirement years can be a challenge, a time to pursue new interests, to travel, engage in hobbies, do neglected work around the house, make new friends, volunteer at jobs that will benefit people and the community. Even these retirement activities can become overwhelming if "personal time" is not woven into the fabric of retirement lifestyle.
The possibilities are limited only by one's perspective. The senior citizen can determine to make the last of life the best, as Poet Browning declares, or he can shrivel away in some self-inflicted "pity party." A choice is involved, and the option to be productive and active is being taken by many senior citizens today.
Because of advances in geriatric medical care, retirement income, and opportunities for continued learning, senior adults can be fairly healthy, economically independent and mentally productive. Awhile back my husband and I were at Duke's Creek Falls seeing the fall scenery there. We met a friendly couple outfitted with a nice recreational vehicle which had been home to them for six months on their extended trip. They lived in Florida and were on their way back to Florida for the winter. Their trek in the past months had taken them all the way to the west coast and up to Washington state, and from there diagonally back across mid-America until they came to Duke's Creek Falls in White County, Georgia. Their friendly manner and outgoing personalities made them a delight to meet. We exchanged home addresses. They told us they hoped to make many more trips, learning about America first-hand by visiting each state. As they met people along the way, or picked up brochures at Chambers of Commerce, they found interesting and historic sites to explore. Their interest in life, though senior citizens, was still keen, geared to learning about and seeing America first-hand. Before retirement, their demanding jobs and rearing their family had not allowed them time to pursue this goal of their later years. I personally hope they've found many more cascading waterfalls and breathtaking sights along their journey.
Hobbies are another benefit of retirement years. I talked to a woman recently who was excited about her church's senior citizen group of ladies who meet weekly to piece quilt tops and quilt them, using patterns passed down for generations. The "quilting bee" is reminiscent of early pioneer days when women enjoyed the occasions to help each other "quilt out" a covering they would give to a new bride or use to add to the store of handmade quilts to keep a family warm in harsh winters. At senior citizen centers now and in some church groups, the "quilting bee" is becoming popular, providing opportunities for camaraderie, friendship and productive work.
For those unable to do their own driving to sites they would like to see and activities they would like to engage in, there is help for them. "Golden Clubs" offer many opportunities for guided tours and access to dramas or other entertainment.
For those who like to read or write, community organizations of reading clubs and writing groups are fun and invigorating. These help to keep the mind alert and looking forward to the next meeting.
Poet W. B. Yeats had some advice for seniors: "When you are old and gray and full of sleep, and nodding by the fire, take down this book." Each day should find the mind stretched and the imagination unfurled through reading. Reading keeps the mind alert. It also can provide a subject for intelligent conversation with friends.
Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of retirement can be strengthening of family ties. If one is fortunate enough to have family, children and grandchildren (and even great grandchildren!), special times with them can be a wonderful blessing and create memories for all involved.
Some may say I've looked at only the "best scenarios" of retirement in this article. What about illness? Debilitating diseases? Pain, discomfort, seemingly endless trips to the doctor, the hospital-all a part of retirement years? I am not so naive as to disregard these. I know from personal experience that we deal with all of these challenges in retirement years. But again, attitude and how we face these challenges of illness and eventual separation from a beloved mate enter into how we manage. There is a supernatural strength for every day. The attuned senior knows that God's help and strength are just a prayer away.
All the years of a senior citizen's life accrue to an apex: "the last of life for which the first was made!" With right choices and proper attitude, the best can, indeed, yet be.
c 2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Sept. 28, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.