Colin Harrington: 'Retired,' but no plans to stop working


WINDSOR >> When I was growing up on Northumberland Road in Pittsfield there were kids on all the streets in the neighborhood and we had our own big community. But there were a lot of elderly people in the neighborhood, too. Distinguished elders who walked up and down the streets and greeted us kids with respect, and fondness, and we enjoyed their company and got to know them well.

I remember that most of them dressed very nattily, the gentlemen in suits, every day, and the women in nice dresses. These elders were retired, with a capital R.

In those days when a person retired from the factory, or the police department, selling insurance,or from teaching, as were a few retirees I knew on my street as a kid, their working days were over, and they looked forward to days of rest, leisure, and a quiet existence. They apparently had no worries or cares.

A bygone era

After 35 years or so of work, the idea of retirement was a reward, not having to do much of anything, a lot of time off. The retirees I knew as a kid seemed to enjoy that life, or else they simply accepted it as such.

I remember the gentlemen spending a lot of time rocking on their porches, reading newspapers, listening to ball games on the radio, or strolling down the street. It seemed like a good deal to me at the time and I always imagined working at some career all my life, so to speak, and then having unlimited time to just do nothing but enjoy the days.

Ironically, I can't even imagine such a thing anymore. In fact, that bygone era seems like some kind of surreal dream to me now. There is no such thing as retirement, not anymore.

Last year I made the decision to "retire" from teaching in the public schools. I feel I have made a strong contribution to public education, I have my own ideas both pro and con as to the direction public education is taking at this time, and I have come to know that there are a lot of like-minded people close to the schools who agree with me. I made the decision to "retire" for myself and it is the right one.

But I retired well before the 35-year mark that ensures an almost complete pension. I did this for a lot of reasons, as in, it was time for me to go and time to open a place for a younger person to make a go of it. I know others, like me, who have left a profession in the full-time capacity because to wait any longer would be detrimental to a sense of well-being, happiness, and good quality of life. I came to understand, many years ago, in fact, that the concept of "retirement" as I understood it as a kid is no longer part of our American life, and that is a very good thing!

When I retired this past June, I got a lot of "congratulations" from people and frankly, I have no idea why they all say that. It's an anachronism. I will never stop working. The most important thing in life is to have a life, to be useful. When an elder does not feel useful anymore, we all know what happens.

A few people I know who are older than me, or about the same age, have asked me about my, what I am now referring to as a "transition"in my career, and they call retirement. Most of them express a fear of retiring and finding a void in their lives.

It is a very real and understandable fear. I tell them, look, we all know it, there is no such thing as retirement. Even wealthy people who don't have to work must find meaning in their lives. I have also known the other reality, as well — I will always need the money!

A brand new phase

I recommend to those people who are asking me about retirement that they plan their next phase of life with new and interesting work in mind. That is what I have done.

I have three part-time jobs that I love, including staying in the teaching profession to a degree, and my retirement dream is of having more time and flexibility in my days to write.

Granted, I earned and paid for a modest pension to support this new life. This is my reward for getting old, being an elder, and having put in my time. But I don't plan to get old rocking on the porch listening to Mozart all the time — well, maybe some of the time.

But everybody needs meaningful work to live well and there is no such thing as the bygone fantasy world of retirement.

Colin Harrington, an occasional Eagle contributor, is an educator and writer.


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