the mid 1950s, there was no "retirement" as we use the
term today. A 1950 poll showed most workers aspired to work for
as long as possible. Quitting was for the disabled. Life did not
offer "twilight years," two decades of uninterrupted leisure
courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer.
1960, the percentage of men over 65 still working has dropped by
half. And the average retirement age keeps falling. It’s down to
62, which gives the average man 18 years to be retired in its current
meaning. It is not unusual to see people ending their careers in
This is one
of the monumental changes in the fabric of society wrought by the
government, that has so altered the integrity of the people.
on a payroll until the age of 79, and now employed on a non-compensated
basis, I came to see that I was regarded as something of a freak.
Was I trying to set some sort of record? Had I failed to accumulate
a large enough estate?
to be some feelings too that I was somehow un-American, and a poor
reflection on a generation that is supposed to be enjoying the good
generation opt for leisure, I see all sorts of adaptations. One
described his life in Florida as meeting the same three golfers
on the first tee at the same time each day for nine holes, then
lunch in the club house, nine holes after lunch, shower, gin and
tonic, and then back to the condo to dress for dinner. When asked
if this was the routine for every day, he said, "No, I help
my wife clean on Tuesday."
This is what
I’m supposed to aspire to?
in answer, said "I sleep as late as I can because I don’t know
what to do when I get up."
heard most frequently is "I’ve been so busy since I retired,
I don’t know how I ever had time for my job" or "Retirement
is so wonderful, I should have retired sooner."
At this point
it might be in order to ask – "Busy doing what?"
Many of those
who retire at 55, 60, 65, or 70 are some of the most experienced,
knowledgeable, and capable people in the workforce. Rather than
occupying positions that might be available to younger people, they
could be creating and expanding job opportunities for others.
There is a
sense of self-worth that comes from working to a purpose that is
essential to well-being, whether the task involves major responsibility
or physical exertion, as both require diligence and daily attendance.
How did we
come to this slough of despondency? Like so many of our present
disorders, it was the siren call of the great white father in Washington:
"Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy laden and I will
give you rest."
Security, Medicare, and public pensions, the government has created
a large new class of dependents who see no necessity to save or
to accept responsibility for themselves, their offspring, or their
As this fatally
flawed scheme proceeds toward disaster, the beneficiaries are so
insistent that their benefits be maintained and are such a strong
political force, that few congressmen have the temerity to say publicly
what everyone knows: payments cannot be sustained. Those who are
working are paying benefits that will not be available to themselves.
Buddha on his
deathbed admonished his followers to, above all, observe strenuousness.
How strange that sounds in today’s world. Our culture denies this
essential virtue to our seniors, who have become dilettantes.
As we observe
able-bodied citizens hiking the malls or sampling the midnight buffets
on the cruise ships, we are struck by their purposelessness, and
the overwhelming boredom they manifest. There is no need to arise
in the morning, or any necessity to go to bed on time. Their reason
for existence has ceased. They have lost the respect of those who
support them, and lost their self-respect in the process.
A story is
told of one who had led a long and eventful life. When the time
came to cross the deep lake, he was pleased with the skiff and the
oarsman as well as his welcome and the accommodations furnished
him. The surroundings were beautiful, the weather pleasant, and
the food more than adequate. After a few weeks, he wanted to try
his hand at gardening again, but that could not be arranged. After
repeated requests to work in the dining hall or on the grounds,
he cried in exasperation, "This is no better than Hell."
The reply came from above, "Where did you think you were?"
reflected on the nature of work, how it was seen in the past as
a God-given calling, and indeed served to define a person. With
the loss of vocation has come a loss of identification.
To remedy this
loss does not require legislation or public awareness. The solution
is within the grasp of everyone who has decided to continue to be
productive. It often means a change in occupation. It may mean giving
up benefits and accepting a lower wage, or no wage at all. But a
reason for living, and a retention of identity, are surely sufficient
Diehl lives and works in Defiance, Ohio.