A Gaze from the Shore

I am getting older with each passing day.  The fact that everyone else is also getting older is not relevant to me.  I realize it is an adjustment we all must go through.

I retired last year on my own terms.  I wasn’t forced out or left because of “personal reasons” or “wanted to spend more time with my family”.  One of the most important factors was that I thought we could afford it.  We’ve maintained a modest life style, were able to put 2 kids through grad school (albeit at public universities who recognized and rewarded their scholastic abilities).  We never assumed that our house played any part of our retirement planning so when the bubble was bursting last year, it  had little impact.  In short, we are receiving our lifetime achievement award for doing what the ant did in the famous fable: work hard and your reward will come.  (I recently was contacted by someone who I served with in the army in Korea who had a very colorful life these last 40 years but who is not doing so well financially.   He’s paying for the choices he made).

But another important other factor was that I wanted to be able to enjoy my retirement years.  We are in fairly good health and are used to physical activity.  I don’t look forward to days when I would not be able to do what I want to do, when I want to do it.  It came to a head last year when we were on a trip to America’s greatest resource; our National Parks.

We went to Zion NP in Utah last year which was the last stop in the visits to Bryce Canyon and North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  (To show you how naive I was, I planned this trip and thought it was unique.  I found out that most of the people we met had either been to or were going to one of the beauties next).  Zion is unique as it is framed by the mountains on both side as you continue progress and see it narrow.  Not surprizing, the bus’ last stop (no cars allowed in the Park thank goodness) lets you off at The Narrows.  It is really a continuation of your  travel you just completed except that you can only access it on foot.  You can hike as far as you like and it is a series of traversing in and out of the Virgin river.   Land to water to land all the way through.

Older Americans are healthier than their predecessors and have more disposable income.  This combination results in you seeing them in large numbers (along with a healthy dose of foreign visitors, thanks to the weak US dollar) through the Parks.  God bless than for getting out and living life!  I saw them get off the bus at the Narrows stop and immediately look skyward at the breathtaking view of the sheer cliffs.  The entrance to the Narrows is a leisurely walk of about a mile on a paved path with the river on one side and the cliffs on the other.

The first group of older Americans, went no further.  These are actually active people since they are out and about and not bound to their homes or hospitals because of a physical or financial reasons.  However, they were “forced” to remain there as that was as far as they would go.  Others would continue the journey to the edge of the Narrows.  It is here where it hit me.

As I entered the water to begin our hike, I looked back to the shore as I began our trek in knee deep water across the river.    There was a group we were walking with but who remained behind at the edge of the shore.  Most were older that us, but I suspect some we were our age or younger.  It was a sad sight for me.  How many of them would have longed to join us?  Who were these people and when did they realize that they could not continue the journey?  I wondered how long it would be before I joined that group on the shore or worse, those left back at the bus stop.  The image that I was in the river and not on the shore validated why I retired when I did.

This image is exactly why I retired when I did.  I will try to do as much as I can for as long as I can.  I ask the Lord above two things: 1) to help me to attain this and 2) to guide me to acceptance when I no longer can fulfill my dreams.  That is the best each of us can do.  Until that time, just keep doing what you want to do for as long as you can.  It is our only choice.




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