Column: Look out! Old age is coming

Look out – old age is coming! All you have to do is watch a few TV commercials to realize how our culture views seniors. It’s either a picture of decrepitude and ill health, or one of carefree silver-haired seniors frolicking on the beach, playing tennis or sailing on their 60-foot yacht. There seems to be no in-between.

The reality, of course, is that not all seniors and retirees suffer health challenges. And certainly not all seniors or retirees have the money to own yachts or the inclination to be physically active. Some do. Most don’t. The middle ground is often a picture of retirement that includes simple relaxation after decades of devoted work: enjoying grandchildren (if you’ve been blessed to have any), sharing meals with friends, playing bridge, reading, etc. Or a variation of those things.

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Rarely do you see or read about retirees using their experience, skills and accrued perspective to help others. In fact, our culture’s implied, subliminal message is that seniors don’t have to worry about making a difference in the world anymore. Their time for making an impact is over.

What a disservice that message sends retirees! That approach only leads to emptiness and desolation. Retirees have much to contribute to the world. Just because we’re no longer engaged in our careers, doesn’t mean our value as human beings is diminished.

There are many retirees who slip into physical or emotional decline once their working life ends. Unless a retiree has a vision of what they want to do with all their newly acquired free time, this period of life can be discombobulating. It may even feel like we’re living life on the sidelines. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are countless ways to fully inhabit our days, doing things that are more meaningful than simply playing golf, knitting or travelling.

I know it’s a constant refrain of mine, but it bears repeating: go volunteer!

Instead of navel gazing and bemoaning the changes that accompany aging, look outward. Examine your community closely and see where people need help. Use your maturity and skills to enrich peoples’ lives. Stepping out of your comfort zone and volunteering in an area you’re unfamiliar with can be extremely rewarding. For example, use your life experience and compassion to greet families and individuals using a food bank. Or help an infirm neighbor shop for groceries, or drive them to appointments; volunteer at your place of worship; or help plant a community garden.

No matter your skills, someone, somewhere can benefit from them. You may have to reshape your skills to fit new circumstances and environments, but each of us has something unique to offer the world. Just remember: Happiness is a choice. So is perspective.

Choose happiness, think positively and look out!

Shelley Civkin, the retired “Face of Richmond,” was a Librarian & Communications Officer at Richmond Public Library for nearly 30 years, and author of a weekly book review column for 17 years.

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