Why we don’t need to retire the definition of retirement

Why we don't need to retire the definition of retirement

Arianna Huffington, that clever woman, tells us (Huffington Post, Sept., 6, 2014) that “It’s time to retire our definition of retirement.” Does she mean we must send the definition to pasture? Does she mean it is time to “retire” the definition of retire? Does she mean it is time to redefine “retirement”?

I am the type of person who, when I want to know the meaning of a word or how it is defined, I go to a dictionary. I cannot help it. And Merriam-Webster informs us that retirement is: “1. The act of ending your working or professional career. 2. The period after you have permanently stopped your job or profession.”

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Above I defined Arianna (I hope she pardons the liberty of calling her by her first name) as a “clever woman,” and I did not write that tongue in cheek. I believe it firmly and deeply, but I also believe that she has, in her note, pulled a cliché or two on this subject from her intellectual sleeve. She says we must take account of our surpluses when we reach mid sixties, seventies or eighties. She is beating around the bush with clichés.

Let me take the bull by the horns, after all I am writing from Spain: Professional soccer players go into retirement in their early thirties. Circus acrobats do not usually make it past 50. Basketball stars stop playing rather soon also. Have you heard of a sixty-year-old jockey? They retire earlier than that.

Going into “retirement” ends their lives? No. Life goes on, because we may retire from one activity or profession and take up another. Mr. Bill Clinton was “retired” from the presidency and from politics, and he took up another activity as a speaker which, by the way, pays better. (Ask him) He did not go home to become a couch potato. Plenty of politicians and judges keep on practicing well past their eighties.

The two definitions I have taken from Merriam-Webster do not imply that life ends after retirement, which simply is the “period after you stop working somewhere or practicing whatever.” Nothing else. We need not redefine the term. It is perfect as it is. I retired as a college professor at 29 and my life and others activities continued.

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A friend of mine was retired at 52 from his desk job in a big European company. At the time I asked him what he was going to do. His answer was quick: “Nothing.” I asked: “How do you do that?” I took it that “nothing” meant sitting in a rocking chair staring at the ceiling all day.

A few months later he informed me how he “killed” time: “In the morning I buy the paper and read every single word in it. That takes me about two-and-a-half hours.” Then he has lunch, takes a nap and sits in front of his gigantic TV screen until suppertime. He seems to be enjoying how time is killing him, day by day.

It takes all kinds to make a world, as Cervantes said. For me, the end, retirement, from one activity does not mean we have reached the “finish line,” but the possibility of starting another, perhaps more fruitful, more rewarding, better paid even.

No, Mrs. Huffington, “retirement” does not need to be redefined. It is just what the word means: cessation from one activity, not the end of life per se, or the end of activity. It does not mean that we must sit and watch life go by, at least not for me. But I am a doer and I enjoy what I do. Some do not, and crave for withdrawal. That is their privilege and their choice.

Nature has “retirement” in store for us; permanent retirement that will last, I believe, an eternity. In the meantime let us do, let us pursue, at whatever age, whatever activity we enjoy and is helpful to others.

George Sheehan said, and I am paraphrasing from memory, that he was an older athlete, but an athlete nevertheless. He never stopped being a runner, of his own volition. Cancer stopped him and sent him to real retirement.

Let us never retire, withdraw, from life and activities until nature decides to stop us.

Delfín Carbonell Basset

Delfín Carbonell is a graduate of Duquesne University and the University of Pittsburgh. He holds a Ph.D. in Philology from Madrid and has authored 35 books in both English and Spanish, published by McGraw-Hill, Barron’s, Larousse, Anaya and Serbal. He has taught at Pitt, F&M, Scranton and Murray St. University.