Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Thoughts on Retirement at Newcomb Hollow

If someone were to ask Sven what he does in retirement, I know what his reply would be: “Clean toilets.” He thinks it funny somehow, to have retired in two countries – Sweden and France – and find himself still working in a third …

Retirement was on my mind as we descended onto Newcomb Hollow Beach. I never used to think about retirement until recently. Now I find no time to write, because I'm so busy doing other things. And, my knees have started to hurt.

Lots of retired people in Wellfleet, but not so many at the ocean yesterday. We saw only one other couple. The beach was practically deserted. It was low tide. Glorious immaculate sand stretched before us for miles.

“In France, citizens are fighting to keep the government from shifting the retirement age from 60 to 62,” Sven said, jumping across a rivulet.

“Two more years of work? No way,” I replied.

Americans cannot understand why retirement age has become such an issue to the French, one on which they do not intend to budge. While working over 60 does not faze me personally, I understand their determination to retain the social benefits that already exist. “Hands off my six weeks of paid leave!” is a common cry. Having observed how American corporations managed to emasculate the unions in this country over the past few decades, I can’t help but feel the French are right.

When I lived near Paris, I sometimes found myself stranded in the city, because subway drivers had decided to strike without warning. Once I even hitchhiked home from work. The French take strikes very seriously. So what if millions of people get inconvenienced? What matters is making a point and not giving in.

Sven and I may not be retired, but how fortunate we are to be able to walk a wide expanse of beach and listen to the gentle waves of Wellfleet. My mom did not get to the beach often during the last fifteen years of her life. Not by choice, but because access is difficult for the elderly. Often, when we are out walking, I’m reminded that such pleasure is not available to folks in retirement homes and should be appreciated while still an option. I store up the beauty in my mind, in case I ever need to call it up at will.

At what age do you plan to retire? Do you understand the French protests? What do you think of the decision not to give Americans on Social Security a cost-of-living increase?