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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The "R" Word*

 *Somerset, PA Daily American
November 6, 2010
as "Working on 'The Plan'"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

I’ve always thought of myself as being young at heart. Even at 55, I never really think of myself as being “old.” Old is always someone with more years than I. I suppose that’s a form of relativistic rationalization, but hey; it keeps me warm at night.

Earlier this year, my wife started to mention the “R” word. And she wanted to talk about it. In the dream-like existence I exist in, such conversation was vastly premature. I won’t be eligible for the pasture until 67, twelve long years from now. Plus, I love my day job and have a genuine passion for the work. My freelance writing is beginning to get a tiny bit of traction. I’m just now hitting my stride and have no interest in contemplating the end of my career.

When she first asked my when I was planning to retire, I thought for a moment and replied, “When the Coroner calls and says they pulled my body out from behind my desk, you’ll know I’ve retired.” Instead of the expected chuckle, all I got was stony silence.

Sometimes, she really has no sense of humor.

Though being the free spirit in this family, I realize that the future is flying at us at breakneck speed, and we have to be ready, lest we end up living in a piano box and eating cat food.

So, we’re embarking on a crash program for retirement. We’re throwing all our resources into debt elimination, and once that’s done (next summer, most likely) we’ll fortify our retirement accounts. While we won’t have a villa on the Riviera, we’ll have comfortable shelter and a reasonable income for our remaining years.

Still, I’m uncomfortable contemplating what people call “The Golden Years.” I know we will do all those things and travel all those places we never could before. But I’ve had some serious health problems lately. What awaits me later?

Still, retirement does free up time to pursue those activities that the duties of working prevented. I love to write, and I'd like to try doing a book. And I'd very much like to travel to my family's ancestral homes in Northern Ireland and France, notonly to visit, but to do research that just can't be done from here.

Plus, I have to admit that waking up in the morning and filling my head with thoughts about "want-to dos" instead of "have-to-dos" is a seductive concept.

I know a lot of retired people, and they all seem to be happy. In talking to them, I discover that they had a plan, not just financial, but what to do with their lives. They do exciting and fulfilling things, both frivolous and important. I have been warned that I, too must have a plan for what to do with my days and nights. One told me, "It's the emptiness that will do you in."

While working life ends at retirement, life itself does not. How we approach those autumn years will determine to a large part whether or not the two concepts of having a life and being alive will remain one.

I have my family, congregation, job, my writing, and a motorcycle. All work in concert to keep the heart beating and my blood flowing. My days are full and meaningful, even though they pass with an increasing rapidity. I intend that this will be the pattern of my retirement years as well.

A life that is filled with living cannot help but fulfill life.
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