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Midlife Matters

Work is a blessing, it’s what keeps you alive. So why should I retire?

By Larry Krotz

The other day, in the business section of the newspaper, a rather curmudgeonly fellow occupying some investment house job was asked, now that he was 65, what he was going to do when he retired.

“I’m not going to retire,” he shot back. “I don’t play golf, and I love to work.” Good on you, I thought. On both points, golf and loving to work, I find myself in total agreement.

On top of that, I share his weariness with having to listen to contemporaries talk about retirement — theirs and, by extension, mine (as if, as a self-employed writer, I could ever afford to do so anyway). These days, I seem to meet more and more people my age who are not only getting ready to pack it in, but they seemingly can’t wait to do so. They’ve figured out how many months they still need to work, they’ve figured out how many months their spouses need to work, and they’re ready to cash the RRSPs and head to Florida.

In my mind, by contrast, there is the thought that far from being near the end of my career, I’m barely getting started. “What’s the matter with you?” I ask them. “Work is a blessing, it’s what keeps you alive.”

“That’s just you,” says my wife, who sometimes accuses me of being a workaholic. She also believes that I, and possibly all self-employed people, live the life of Riley (without ever explaining who Riley is) and says, “Lots of people, in fact the majority, find meaning in places other than their work and are fed up with long commutes to impersonal offices every day. They’re happy to retire.”

She’s right. Last March, Patricia Clarke published an eloquent piece in this magazine about how to make retirement a rich time in one’s life, which of course, thousands have done.

My younger brother retired four years ago. He’d been an elementary school teacher and as soon as he hit the formulaic number that gave him his pension and the exit door, out he went. He and his wife, also a teacher, moved slickly into what you might call the four C’s of retired life: Curling, Cruises, supporting their Children, being involved in their Church. Life for them is just as Clarke supposed it could be.

Two things about my brother’s retirement, I have to say, were sufficiently striking that I’ll never forget them.

In a fit of exuberance on his last afternoon at work, he hurled the briefcase he’d carried all those many years into the school’s dumpster, an act so out of character that it startled me.

The other thing was much more in character: at his retirement party, he told the gathered colleagues and friends how he thought it important to make room for young teachers coming out of college and wanting to find their positions. In the act of retirement, my brother was both relieved and generous. He was freeing himself, and he was not going to be a dog in the manger and take up space. Both things to think about. But neither of them help me feel any more settled.

Back in the newspaper, though, I do find an item that lifts my spirits. It’s about Saskatchewan artist Joe Fafard, who at age 65 claims to be “in mid-career.” Good on you, I think. Just the kind of kindred soul I need.
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