A small group of my friends gather to discuss various paths into the next third of life, to read and consider books, and to talk about living in today’s world. The first book we selected, Purposeful Retirement by Hyrum W. Smith, will not be mistaken for one of the great works of literature. In fact, I suspect that for many individuals it won’t resonate as a guide for ways to live after stopping full-time work. There are bits and pieces that are insightful, and Smith’s stories are usually humorous and illustrative in their own way. I’ve written about other books which were also useful in helping me think through the aging process. Nonetheless, Purposeful Retirement has served its purpose in that it gets the group to talk.
In one recent conversation, we found ourselves relating experiences in moving parents into assisted living facilities. One member told the story of how his predecessor, upon his retirement, mentioned to his wife that he wasn’t ready to move into assisted living.
“Harry,” she replied. “You’ve been in assisted living for a long time.”
I’ve now told that story on multiple occasions (another sign that you’ve moved into the next third of life), and it certainly struck a nerve. Beyond the many ways long-time partners and spouses assist us through life, don’t we all really exist in assisted living our entire lives?
Let’s be honest. We wouldn’t be here if our parents hadn’t assisted us through the toddler years. But beyond basic survival, there are so many others who provide assists along the way. Teachers assist in our studies. Meteorologists assist in considering what clothes to wear as we walk out the door. Engineers assist by ensuring that as we flick the light switch on the wall or push the computer’s on/off button they will work. Friends assist as we develop social skills. Bosses and mentors assist in sharing lessons on how to thrive in the professional world. Mail carriers assist in bringing checks, medications, love letters, and magazines. Colleagues assist in everything from major projects to the day-to-day navigation of our work environments. Lawmakers and judges assist in providing the civil framework for our legal system. Farmers assist in putting food on the table. Partners and spouses assist in understanding the ways of love.
It strikes me that so much of what bothers the nation today is that we don’t want to admit that we rely on other people. It is especially difficult for some to admit this when those other people don’t look like them. And too often we don’t want to admit that others rely on our actions and support. When we refuse to assist others, we fail to do our part in upholding the unwritten bargain of civilization.
The author and social critic Stephen Carter, in his book Civility: Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy, blames this on an over-reliance on markets, a forgetfulness of the obligations we owe each other, and a lack of a moral compass in decisionmaking. He says,
“…the language of the marketplace, the language of wanting, of winning, of simply taking – the language of self – is supplanting the language of community, of sharing, of fairness, of riding politely alongside our fellow citizens…”
When we realize we all live in assisted living, we begin to think about community, sharing, and fairness. When we think we are independent, superior, and self-reliant, we refuse to attach our electrical grid to systems in other states that could provide back-up power in cold weather, and then we lie and blame others when it fails. *
I’m proud to say that I live in assisted living. Yes, I have been there for a long time, and it is where I expect to end my days.
And if I see you sometime in the future and tell you of the conversation between Harry and his wife, humor me and just pretend I haven’t already told you the same thing three times.
Have a great week.
More to come…
*My father was a life-long electrical engineer for TVA. He would have thought the idea of having a separate electrical grid without any backup the height of foolishness. But then, he believed in the power of community.