Turning 65 this month, I’ve been checking actuarial tables. My 95-year-old father told me at his recent birthday celebration that when he retired at 62, his retirement advisors were working with something close to an endgame around 82 or so and planned accordingly. Well, he blew past that marker with aplomb, but it underscores my preoccupation with optional timelines.
Young people starting out are encouraged by parents and mentors, not to mention myriad investment advisors selling their wares, to start saving at an early age considering the magnificent beauty of earning compound interest for decades. It’s good advice that often falls on distracted minds. (Consider this a reminder.) My profession didn’t provide the opportunity for a whole lot of saving in my early (and middle) years, especially with the arrival of two children and the challenge of raising them in the seemingly most-expensive-place-on-the-face-of-the-earth. Still, even considering the positive tradeoffs of occupation location vs. earning potential, the challenge couldn’t be ignored.
But what I want to mention here, brooding in the tranquil green woods, concerns the reality of human finitude, namely my own. When you’re 30, 87.5 (the new averaged planning normal) is shrouded in the misty distance. Prime avoidance opportunity. But perceptions change.
Facing a life-threatening illness at say, 40, can bring the matter shockingly close. At 65, it’s still disturbing but less shocking, and at 95, well, one might say serenely, “at hand at last.” (Although, as for that, my father shows little sign of going gently into that good night.)
All spiritual masters know that being born and having to die drives human striving and meaning-making. This is the spiritual engine, the heart of the matter, the Great Mystery summed up in a prayer recited at Christian funerals: “Holy God, help me to live as one who is prepared to die. And when my days here are accomplished, may I die as one who goes forth to live, so that living or dying my life may be in you, for nothing in life or in death can separate me from your great love…”
This prayer is always relevant. Always—an anchor in every storm, at every age, in every loss, every failure, and at every intimation of “The End.” Here’s the thing: let this prayer sink deep into your cellular membranes and each day take on the fresh radiance of an astonishing gift, pregnant with opportunity for gratitude, forgiveness, and love.
Long ago I decided that’s the life I wanted. And gratitude abounds. (Notwithstanding the reliability of actuarial tables…)