Retirement day: Are you ready!

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Are we prepared for retirement? I’d bet that most of us are not. We are so engaged in our lives and work routines that we don’t have time to think of the future. And if we do, we quickly run out of realistic, sustainable options.

Sure, we could realize a dream of a second home in Bosnia or Bali, a retreat for family and friends on the outskirts of town, a camp in the desert or a cabin on the beach. We could use our life savings for an around the world trip, a Caribbean cruise or a long vacation in Europe. But even if all our dreams were realized, how long would it take before we got bored and ran out of steam?

In your sixties, you hope for 20 to 30 years of good health. That is a lot of mileage. You end up with tons of long days and nights, empty hours and minutes. You just sit there, following news, reading books, watching your grandchildren grow, observing people in action, and watching as life and strength pass away.

Tough questions haunt us: Am I still useful? Productive? Relevant? Necessary? Am I a dependent, a heavy load on others? How long can I stand on my feet? With my friends departing one after the other, when will it be my turn? Will anyone miss me when I go?

When a receptionist, Abdullah Al-Zahrani, came close to his retirement day, he pleaded with his superiors to let him stay. I remember him going from one office to another offering any compromise he thought of, including reducing his salary and benefits. I thought he needed the job for financial reasons, but I was assured that that was not the case.

Abdullah explained that he had been working most of his life and could not accept not being useful. One day, he was trying to fix the air-conditioner and failed. His teenage son came along and got it working in minutes. Actually, it wasn’t broken and he almost broke it! Then he failed again in fixing a door. Then, everyone was pleading with him to just call when he needed help.

Saleh, the cashier at an Indonesian restaurant was a Saudi gentleman in his sixties. This was unusual for a man of his age, so I assumed he was the owner. I was right. Still, why would he spend his days and nights at such a job when he could have hired someone, I wondered.

Saleh had been a high-ranking security officer. During his heydays, he was overwhelmed with work and surrounded with people - colleagues, friends and visitors. He had always longed for days of quiet and peace - retirement.

He said: “One day I was criticizing my wife and daughters for replacing the Persian rug in the living room. They looked astonished, but not totally surprised, and politely reminded me that it was me who replaced it, years ago. At that point, I decided to look for a job or a business, anything to keep me busy and sane.

“Now, I have this little restaurant, with a desk at the entrance. That is the best position to have if you want to communicate with people. A few friends come by. When I go home at the end of my long working day, my family greets me like in the old days. It is a bit boring sometimes, but tell me, what else can a retiree do?” he asked.

Sadly, when I went there the last time, the restaurant was sold, and Saleh was gone. I hope he is fine, surrounded with caring and interesting people.

Saleh and Abdullah never prepared themselves for the day after, unlike my neighbors in Eugene, Oregon, during my graduate studies in the US. One bought a camper van and the other a riverboat. Their calendars were so full to the extent that when they decided to have a farewell party for us, it was hard to find a suitable date. I used to see them everywhere: On school boards, neighborhood watch, charities, sports and social clubs, or just strolling in the parks. What a good life!

The question that bugs me is: What am I going to do when I retire? In the absence of good options, I may end up a couch potato, watching TV all day.

Why must it end this way? Is it because we don’t plan ahead? Is it that our state, private and civic institutions have no use for retirees? Or is it because we tend to celebrate the young, active and productive while discarding the used and weak?

What do you think, dear readers? Are you well prepared for the day after? Let’s share ideas.

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah.

He can be reached at kbatarfi@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @kbatarf


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