WITHOUT A DOUBT

Time to Plan for Retirement

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By the time you read this I will have celebrated what is euphemistically called a “milestone birthday,” a nice name for a dreadful event. Turning 60 is bad enough; doing so on April Fools Day is especially cruel.

But, there’s no avoiding it: I’m now a “sexagenarian,” which sounds like something I could get arrested for. Actually, according to the dictionary the term refers to someone who is “from 60 to 69 years old.” Catholics might remember a similar word in the old liturgical calendar, a day called, “Sexagesima Sunday,” approximately 60 days before Easter.

(Bonus question: What was the name for the Sundays before Lent that referred to seventy and fifty days before Easter?)

There are lots of ways of explaining what it means to be sixty. I’m now older than the speed limit on some interstate highways. I’m as old as Babe Ruth’s single season homerun record, a record that really meant something prior to steroids. I’ve now completed six decades of life; I’m older than the Rosary is long.

There’s some debate about whether or not being sixty still qualifies for middle aged. Probably not. So, that makes me a senior-citizen, a golden-ager? My classmates have grandchildren. There’s a possibility that the next pope and the next president will be younger than I am. I’m at the point where I worry about getting my money’s worth if I buy new a new suit or a new pair of shoes. My doctor insists that I get a flu shot because I’ve entered a “high risk population.” Thanks a lot!

I did some research on the internet about becoming sixty.

I learned that the Kammu People of China celebrate their lives in a 60 year cycle so that the 60th birthday marks “both an important and dangerous year.” On that occasion the family celebrates by slaughtering a large pig “of six handbreadths.” It’s an honor I can forego.

The Book of Leviticus (27:7) refers to the age 60 and says that in redeeming votive offerings a male who’s 60 is worth 15 shekels and female 10. You’ll have to ask a Scripture scholar to explain the reason for the disparity.

I found some clever t-shirts that explain the significance of turning 60. One puts a rather positive spin on 60: “It took me 60 years to look this good.” One rationalizes: “I’m 18 . . . with 42 years of experience.” My favorite: “60 . . . And my mind’s still tarp as a shack.” And finally: “Happy 60th Birthday. You’re now 21,916 days, 525,984 hours, 31,559,040 minutes, and 1,893,542,400 seconds old.”

No wonder I’m tired.

In any event, I’ve decided to start thinking about retirement, despite the fact that I might not live long enough to retire. Remember, bishops usually can’t step down until they reach 75. By then I will have been a bishop for 31 years and believe me, the job these days takes its toll. And I’ve inherited some bad genes that’ll probably do me in long before that. Nonetheless there are some things I’d like to do when I retire.

I want to read more, in particular some of the works of Shakespeare. In school I read the typical required works like “Julius Caesar” but I know that my intellectual life would be enriched if I could read some more. I’d also like to read, and perhaps attempt to write, some poetry, something beyond “Roses are red, violets are blue . . .”

I definitely want to continue writing, especially the novel I’ve had in mind for a long time. I’ve already decided on the name: “Lipstick on the chalice.” The story will feature typical characters we find in the Church today and will be woven around the tensions and the relationships among the colorful characters as they deal with the challenges of the contemporary Church.

In retirement I want to listen to more classical music, especially symphonic music. I love symphonic music, and if I had more time I’d regularly attend the concerts of the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra. In my golden years I’ll have that time.

On the other end of the musical spectrum, when I retire I’ll retrieve my accordion from the closet. That means I’ll have to live alone of course, but that’s okay. I used to be fairly proficient with the accordion but on the few occasions I tried it recently even my faithful dog left the room. And besides, if I play the accordion at 75 I can blame the missed notes on arthritic hands.

When I retire I want to spend more time walking on the beach, perhaps in Sanibel, Florida, or maybe Positano, Italy, but really any decent beach will do. I inherited that instinct from my dad, who also loved to walk the beach. I can’t think of a better way, at least in the natural world, of preparing for the sunset of life than walking on the beach.

So, there’s lots to look forward to in retirement, and I’ll daydream about it for the next fifteen years, probably while sitting at meetings in our conference room. But if I don’t get to retire and the Lord calls me home before that, that’s okay too. I’ve already chosen the words for my tombstone: “I’ve worked hard, I’ve done my best. Now it’s time to get some rest.” Call it a permanent retirement. In any event, thanks, Lord, for a great sixty years.