Retirement! We’ve all seen those commercials that market life after work as the dream we long for – where we lounge on a beach or travel to exotic places in the world. Insurance companies, condo sellers and many other industries try to convince us that looking forward to this kind of retirement is the ultimate aim of our lives. Apparently many buy into that idea. But of course this sales pitch is dependent on everything going exactly as the plan outlines – something life often doesn’t do.
Additionally, this description of ideal retirement isn’t something everyone can achieve. And even if they could, they discover it is often not the path to actual happiness and health. Extensive research by the University of Miami involving 83,000 individuals over the age of 65 years and spanning a period from 1997 to 2011, bear this out. It found that older adults live healthier lives when they stay engaged in their community, and live a life that gives to others and feels purposeful.
Minnie Rotundo would agree. At 100 years of age she continues to work 11 hours a day for six days a week, managing a dry-cleaning service, which she has worked at since the mid-1950s. In an article in ABC News, Minnie explains that she has been working since the age of 15, adding that work gives her life a purpose – a reason to get up every day. Clearly Minnie has not bought into the idea of a retirement future.
But it isn’t always so easy to see through the sales pitch prompting retirement from a productive life and instead, just having fun. In fact, we can be led away from the very thing that keeps Minnie so active – living a life of intention and meaning.
That’s what the founder of American modern dance, Martha Graham, discovered after her own near tragic attempt to retire.
Feeling increasingly disconnected from her dancing career after she had stepped down, Graham began to abuse alcohol to such an extent that she attempted suicide and was hospitalized. But she recovered. And her return to the world of dance gave her a fresh purpose and direction. In fact, during this later period she choreographed some of her best works, and regained her health. She never retired again. In a reflective moment, she once said:
All that is important is this one moment in movement. Make the moment important, vital, and worth living. Do not let it slip away unnoticed and unused.
Of course Graham saw those ‘moments’ as related to dance. But, this really applies to every aspect of our lives. We need to cherish every moment in our lives as vital and worth living, and not simply endure our work life, rushing through it until we can retire. I find it easier to avoid this trap of ‘endurance’ in my own thinking when I take moments throughout the day to turn away from the hurly-burly demands to draw closer to God. It is then that I remember that every needed action can have a divine purpose.
Mary Baker Eddy, a lifelong spiritual thinker and Christian healer, saw all life as having the purpose to express the divine Life that is God, and she never retired from that. She wrote:
Happiness consists in being and in doing good; only what God gives, and what we give ourselves and others through His tenure, confers happiness: conscious worth satisfies the hungry heart, and nothing else can.
Rather than retirement being a future existence we look forward to, it can happen in the brief moments we take right now. Allowing time to retreat from our busy schedules to appreciate and express goodness provides opportunity for recognizing the divine presence. This recognition refreshes our sense of conscious worth inspiring us with the purpose to bless others today and tomorrow.