1. Archive

Why is there all this pressure to retire?

No, I'm not retired, but I am thinking of it.

Not because I want to. I like my work, my students, my colleagues. I'm thinking of retirement because people keep bringing up the subject.

The other day, an acquaintance asked if I was retired. I assured him I was not, but may not have succeeded in convincing him that I am not old enough to retire.

A number of my college classmates are retired, and they _ I expect in self-defense and from feelings of guilt _ indicate that life in retirement is really quite good.

They speak of benefits and extol the virtues of the idle hour to be filled with reading and travel. I do, in fact, have on my desk five booklets about retirement, sent for in a moment of weakness and discouragement. They are enough to frighten one off the subject altogether.

They urge me to "understand Social Security" _ I can't; and to estimate my income in retirement _ an impossibility; and to make a list of financial responsibilities _ I did, and conclude I must work till I'm well over 100.

All this literature and friendly advice and concern takes its toll.

There is pressure to conform, and it may be that I will be forced or shamed into retirement one day. Bribed I can be, forced and shamed I cannot.

Thoughts of retirement obtrude also because I am now over 60, young in my eyes, but evidently not in the eyes of others.

The other morning, I wandered deep in thought to see about a broken car (mine), a distance of a mile and a half. I didn't make it there or back, for I was offered a ride by friends going and coming _ closer, I might add, to my goal than my starting point.

I accepted out of neighborliness, not from need or desire: I've found that it is a more efficient use of time to accept a ride than it is to explain that I am refusing because of (a) moral conviction, (b) need of exercise, (c) the beauty of the day _ all of which obtained in this case.

It is also less demeaning to accept a ride from a friend, I feel, than it is to have a pregnant woman offer you her seat on a bus, but not much. You are only as old as you feel, they say, but they are also in the habit of making you feel old.

In my view, most people retire not out of real desire, but because they are bullied into it by well-meaning friends, and unfortunately sometimes by employers and the folks who wish to make a buck or two from "golden agers."

I have a friend, a golfer, so already suspect, who says he was born to retire, he enjoys life in retirement so much. More power to him. I think I could retire quite happily, too, but on my own terms, which would include, of course, financial comfort and doing pretty much what I do now, but at a different pace and on my own schedule.

Puttering has little appeal, putting even less, and one can stretch reading the newspaper only so far into the day before thoughts of doing something begin to intrude.

The AARP keeps pestering me to join, but it is also after my wife, who is a full 10 percent younger than I. I take it that RP means "Retired Persons," though other interpretations are possible.

I take it also that RP is considered an acceptable euphemism for "old folks." I don't see how, since many OF are not RP, and vice versa. Why these initials anyway? Can't they come right out and say what they are _ a lobbying group for older people (LOP)? They confuse the issue, and by confusing it delude the unwary into thinking that one must, at a certain age and in spite of congressional rulings, withdraw from remunerative activity, no matter how spiritually fulfilling that activity may be.

In answer to my friend's question: No, I'm not retired, and am contemplating retirement only because people like you bring up the subject.

Yes, I am growing older, though still well within the limits of middle age, a period I have but recently reached. And I am willing to contemplate growing still older, but am not (yet) ready to think of retirement. But I will entertain offers.

William F. Wyatt Jr. is a professor of classics at Brown University.

Providence Journal