They ought to call it the Association of Resurgent Persons Golf? Humbug!

April 17, 1996|By Isaac Rehert

A FRONT-PAGE headline in The Sun, over a story about people's living longer these days, asked the question, ''Do you want to play golf for 20 years?''

The accompanying article, discussing a study by a Cornell University sociologist about our increasing longevity, suggested that outliving our jobs by 20 years amounted to a kind of sentence of doom.

Two decades in limbo. Or even more. ''Now you're looking at 20 or 30 years without active, meaningful engagement. That's a lot of golf.''

What nonsense.

Golf is a fine game, if you happen to like golf. But in that context it is clearly a metaphor for useless, meaningless activity undertaken after downsizing from the only world that really counts: the world of remunerated employment.

Well, here's good news.

We don't need to take up golf. Those post-career years -- if we're lucky enough to get them -- may be anything but limbo. They can be the best -- the most profoundly exciting, the most rewarding -- time of our lives.

''Fountain of age''

In her recent book on aging, Betty Friedan, mother of the feminine mystique, referred to them as ''the fountain of age.'' The fountain of youth was just the dream of a conquistador; This one, today, is for real.

But enjoying retirement doesn't come automatically. Unless, of course, you like golf all that much.

Of course we need our health, and we need relative freedom from financial worry. But we're still not home free.

The earliest stages may be an excruciating test. For we're on our own now. It's up to us to decide whom we want to be. No longer is who we are determined for us by our job.

The first days are bound to be traumatic. There are those early mornings when we stay in bed staring up at the ceiling wondering what we'll do with ourself today.

We miss our friends from the workplace, our corner of the office -- the identity we had created there that accompanied us outside. If I'm not the office manager, the teacher or the staff writer, then who in the world am I?

A time for patience

We need to be patient and work through that. For a time we suffer, we agonize, we regret abandoning the safety zone we had labored so long and hard to create. One day, a friend invites us to play golf, or some other meaningless equivalent, and somehow we while away the day.

Meaning -- that's what we miss. Our job, no matter how trivial it may have been, had been the spur that gave our lives meaning. It paid the rent and made the car payment.

It was important: Every morning, no matter how much we complained about it, we knew that, short of suffering a broken back in a car crash, we had to get there.

Now, in retirement, there's no place we have to get. No boss, no secretary, no assembly line that will pay the least attention if we ,, don't show up. Whatever we undertake -- even taking a trip or playing bridge with friends -- is just another form of playing golf. Deep down inside, we're bored.

But gradually, we begin to find ourselves. We get into activities we find not meaningless, that touch our hearts.

We volunteer to help needy people where we feel useful, or we take a course that blasts open our imaginations, or we get in touch with spiritual matters that we laid aside as youngsters and that have been simmering for decades somewhere on the back burner of our souls.

We feel we're growing. We have time now to look back over the decades of our lives and try to make sense of where we've been. We think about our values: What do we really care about?

Have we lived the way we really wanted to live, were there sins of omission, and if so, can we do anything to rectify those now?

Pretty soon, our schedules -- and our minds -- have become so full that we wonder when we ever had time to go out to a job.

We were busy before, but this busyness now is different. Where we are now we've consciously chosen to be. Not to please an employer, not to make ourselves look more attractive on a resume. What we're doing now is who we really are. And that's exciting.

For many of us, this is the first time in our lives that we've felt this way. With the mortgage paid off, the children grown and the inside of our heads and hearts in some kind of order, we're drinking from the fountain of age.

This is no limbo, we're not waiting for anything, it is ''the last of life, for which the first was made.''

Now, if we can fit it in among our important activities, we may even play a little golf.

Isaac Rehert is a retired Sun staff writer.

Pub Date: 4/17/96

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