Life is what happens to you whilst you’re busy making other plans (J.Lennon 1980) but what if you can plan for a new life and actually obtain it? Is it The Holy Grail or truly achievable?
We are both somewhat jaded in our jobs, our children have grown up, our parents are still independent, our pensions are not going to be worth much but we are still in reasonable health after negotiating our 50th birthdays. Yes, joints and muscles ache more than they used to, eyesight and hearing are not as acute, memory definitely isn’t as sharp and mental processing takes a little longer – the last 2 obviously due to the amount of information accumulated in the grey matter. We are of the pre-Google generation and had to learn and retain information.
We could continue in reasonable contentedness until we retire, eventually, if we can keep up with the ever-increasing state-pension age, by which time we’ll be less fit, financially compromised and who knows what may happen in those intervening years. Working in a hospice gives one a distorted view of life as everyone is dying either prematurely or rapidly but frequently unexpectedly despite death being the only certainty these days, with the advancement of creative accounting.
Perhaps fortuitously, we never know what the future has in store for us or whether we will have one at all. Successive governments seem determined to eliminate all causes of death so, in the absence of an unfortunate accident or in defiance of the Dept of Health we expire precipitately, we can look forward to a long and perhaps less than pleasant old age with dwindling support for protracted social or health needs whilst waiting to shuffle off this mortal coil. This seems to be enough reason to live whilst we are still able to do so and benefit from a full life rather than a lingering old age. We would not want to be a burden to our children and know that state support will be negligible and unfortunately often rushed and limited, easily becoming demeaning and degrading; our elderly are not regarded with the same level of respect conferred by other cultures. I don’t want anyone feeding me because I’m incapable of doing so and then having to clear up the inevitable consequences over which I have lost control. I don’t even want to have to wait for someone to help me to the toilet and then have to clean me, despite performing that task for others many times. I certainly don’t want to become housebound, you have to go and get life, it doesn’t come to you.
Whilst we enjoy a comfortable lifestyle neither of us are particularly materialistic. We spend the money we have on things we enjoy perhaps more as a compensation for the life we have to live Monday to Friday. I enjoy cooking but it is much easier to go out and have someone else do the preparation and clearing up and saves time. Participating in the life we currently lead does require a certain conformity to be both presentable and integrate with the norms of our professions, particularly when dealing with customers or clients. Cars, clothes, social expenses including holidays can mount up but are a requirement of the life we currently lead rather than an absolute necessity. When looking at what we would ‘need’ and I use that word selectively, we try to see what would be required in a different but yet unknown life; chocolate? beer and wine? cigarettes!? One thing I’m particularly attached to, from where I write this, is my bed. It is so comfortable since I changed the mattress, acquired Hungarian goose down pillows and percale sheets. Whilst spending less time in it than I would like I feel sure that any other type of sleeping arrangement wouldn’t be as comfortable and we do spend a significant proportion of our life horizontal, but much of that time is in an unconscious state – hopefully.
But, what to do? The world is smaller now, travel so much easier and very few places inaccessible. My son has just come back from 2 years in New Zealand where he went when he was 18. I travelled there twice, it took 30 hours. Whilst he was there we talked on the phone with and without facetime, we e-mailed with attached photos, mainly due to the time difference. I could look at the places he was staying, I even looked at some job websites for him on the other side of the world. 30 years ago, when I was his age, going to a kibbutz or grape-picking in France was exciting and adventurous, what a massive change in the intervening decades. Our generation missed out on this easy opportunity. Our parents have the luxury of relatively decent pensions to facilitate a comfortable retirement and enable them to be as adventurous as they choose coupled with lower expectations and no expense to assist their off-springs’ university fees and subsistence. We have been caught from both sides but this does not mean that we can’t enjoy a taste of it – or are we just trying to revive our long-lost youth? I don’t think so, but if that is the case I’m not sure that I’m prepared to concede defeat just yet.