Bully Pulpit: Imagine This

Tim GilmerLately I’ve been thinking about what I might do when I retire — if I retire — but the problem is I don’t know what the word means. Literally, to retire means to change the rubber on my wheels. But there is nothing new or unique about this — I’ve done it twice a year for the past four-plus decades.

To retire also means to go to sleep at the end of the day. Dull, boring. What about the traditional meaning of the word? When I was a kid, a retiree would get a gold watch and maybe a pension from the company they had worked for most of their life. Nowadays, as far as I can tell, retirement means you have reached the point in your life when you are willing to gamble your life savings away, if you have any, with the purpose of living as if you are on vacation for as long as you can — as long as it is not too long.

There’s the rub. Retirement can drag on too long, and we aren’t exactly in control of the big picture. Everyone wants to live a long life with plenty of leisure time, but no one wants to live so long that you run out of money or have to endure cancer or Alzheimer’s or waste away in a nursing home.

So how does being a wheelchair user come into play when you consider retirement? The same as if you are nondisabled, only with a “fringe benefit.” By that I mean in our later years we will have been thoroughly conditioned to some symptoms of old age before we actually get there. Theoretically, that should mean we will have an easier time with whatever health problems might waylay us when our bodies start to really, really deteriorate.

Not exactly a rosy picture, I know. It’s just that the thorns won’t bother us so much.

So I’ve learned something from our little discussion, and here it is: The time to retire is now, this instant, no matter your age or situation. I’m not saying you should stop working and buy a used RV and travel around (although that might not be a bad idea, if you can afford it). I’m saying we should all adopt the stress-free, I-now-have-all-the-time-in-the-world-to-enjoy-life attitude that is supposed to accompany us into retirement.

Yes, it’s all about tricking our minds into thinking we are on permanent vacation. If you think about it, it’s not that different from something many of us have already mastered: thinking we are not really disabled. You know, as evidenced by what we keep telling ourselves: I’m not disabled, only differently-abled; I don’t let my disability define me; I have “overcome” my disability. My disability ceased to be a problem the moment I “accepted” it.

Ahhh, retirement. It’s not about having enough money or time to do whatever we want, after all. It’s about having the right attitude, a healthy imagination, and the will to exercise it early and often.

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  1. Gail & Don Lively says:

    Recently retired.

    I recently retired after 29 years in IT. I am a C7 quad and have been for 33 years. My decision to retire was forced, to some degree, after shoulder surgery determined that I had no left rotator-cuff and continuing a career that required so much travel, site visits and uncontrollable demand on my upper body, was not the best way to prolong the life of what remaining shoulder I had left.

    It was odd at first. I had no idea what to do. But now, after almost two years, I’m happier than I have ever been. For over 29 years, I had been selling my time and expertise to someone else so they could use it however they saw fit. Today, my time is mine.

    I had planned ahead. When I turned 24 I took fullest advantage of 401Ks, IRAs, stock matching, anything that could make some money into more money. Because, as you pointed out, we experience the effects of aging sooner and I think not long after I was injured, it became clear that my life schedule was no longer on the same timeline as most. The premonition paid off. At 53 I’m not rich, but I am very comfortable and quite secure.

    My time is mine now, and though the shoulder slows me down a bit I’m healthy enough to really enjoy it.


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