Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Meltdown Monday and Where do We Go From Here?

How many sports heroes have retired and later come out of retirement? We hear about this all the time. I am not announcing 'my coming out' - of retirement that is, quite yet.

The USA is experiencing the greatest regulatory failure in modern history. There is no consensus as to whether a federal bailout will cure things or make matters worse. President Bush, Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke have said the credit crunch is dire and that without a bailout the country’s economy will plummet into a deep recession or worse. But Congress rejected the bailout bill this week. One of the main obstacles is the enormous $700 billion price tag that U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson asked Congress to approve. That money is earmarked to buy bad credits from lending institutions. In theory, cleaner balance sheets will allow those lenders to start providing credit again to commercial and retail customers, giving the economy a lift. Now all the bad debt will be placed on the taxpayer and the federal government in order to stop the bleeding of not only large companies, but the bleeding of pensioners, house owners, and small businesspeople.

Commentators are agreeing that it is the end of the world as Americans have known it. I heard an economist say that the effects of this crisis will not be over until 2015. Another says that everyone must immediately adjust to the reality that you cannot pay for things with money you do not have, which is to say, we can no longer live on credit. The credit bubble has burst. It inflated obscenely over many years. Gigantic losses have been realized all over the world. Some people know no other way to live than by credit. Plastic cards are the way we transact business from breakfast to the purchase of a car. I know that we Canadians feel that we are still sitting on the hill looking down at this unfolding crisis in America and believing that we are safe on high ground. I don’t know whether we are or we aren’t safe. I suspect that as connected as the markets of the world are, we will not be immune. So, someone like me who has for a lifetime worked within a non profit work world, receiving wages commensurate with limited institutional financing and with no pension other than what I have set aside myself. If I lose my RRSPs as some pensioners may lose their 410K’s in the States, retirement may be over for me and I will be looking for work. There are all kinds of jobs available right now. I could serve coffee and donuts at Tim Horton’s. I might have to.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Ageing and Growing Fearful

This morning I was out for my customary walk and it occurred to me that a car could go out of control behind me and strike me, lifting me high into the air, sending me into a tree trunk. I envisioned myself losing consciousness before striking the tree and was grateful for that mercy. Then I wondered why such thoughts would trouble me. Is increased fearfulness one of the infirmities of ageing?

As a young man, my friend Ron Schindel and I fixed up a ’47 Plymouth to carry us to our first year of undergraduate studies. I recall my relaxed sense of freedom as we sped down the highway. I had no dependents. I had no lofty ambitions. I thought that if we suddenly hurtled into a farmer’s field and hit a tree, that’s life, or.

Danger and risk did not bully me. I was strong and fast and fearless. I had an impression of invulnerability. One of the summer jobs I enjoyed was as a linesman on the St. Lawrence Seaway which required taking a lake freighter’s heavy steel cable around a pylon winch and then when the ship had been lowered within the lock system between Lakes Erie and Ontario, I would secure my foot and peer fearlessly to the boat deck 80 to 100 feet below, then gradually lower and release the cable. Today one of the recurring subjects of night dreams is falling from heights. I look from high buildings with misgivings.

As a young father I was a hero in both my children’s minds and my own. I would protect my family at the cost of my own life. I was sure of it. Now I realize that I am always pleased when I am in the company of my 38 year old son, tall and powerful. It doesn’t help that my spine has compressed and I have shrunk, I think about a foot.

I drive a Miata MX5 which is fast. Maybe it’s a good thing that I couldn’t afford it when I was younger because I might not have been as careful as I am now. Now I am very aware of what speed can do when a body is suddenly stopped. Perhaps it’s the years of life experience that have educated me to be fearful. Perhaps it’s not a weakness.

I think I should cut out bread products, increase my water intake, work out to develop an ironman physique, cut out sugars, and beef up my self esteem. Will I? Maybe tomorrow.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Bathroom Breaks

Men/Women, Male/Female, Amigo/Amigal, Him/Her, He/She, Senior/Seniora. I am seeing a lot of these signs these days. More frequently than at any other time in my life.

Recently two friends joined Christine and I for a four day holiday. One day I was asking to stop every half hour. It’s not that I like to see the décor in a wide variety of restrooms. I had to go.

In the past year of my working career, I was visiting the Men’s Room often during the course of the day. My executive assistant’s desk was located near the door to the hallway that leads to washrooms. One of my associates was a few years older than me. No two employees moved through those doors more frequently than the two of us. I don’t know whether it became laughable to my assistant, but the frequency of our visits were not lost on us. I became embarrassed to be leaving again. I would find legitimate secondary reasons to leave the office suite so I could cover another pit stop by running an errand. Sometimes I used the little used other door exited through the storage area.

Sleeping through the night? Forget it. Nighttime potty trips even have a name, nocturia. Now I have someone telling me that ageing is not the only necessary contributor to this potty penchant. He is telling me it can be diabetes, diuretics, medicines, bladder dysfunction and cancer, or prostate enlargement. Guys, you may want to read this Healthline page and type in a related subject.

This part of ageing bites.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Freedom to Grow a Beard

I have five days beard growth on my upper lip and chin. I am going to grow it out at least to see whether it matches my white hair on the sides of my head. Whether it looks good will determine whether it endures. It has received a good deal of opposition from Christine who tells me it makes me look older, tired, fatter-faced, unwell and she simply doesn't like it. But she's giving me latitude because she knows that in my lines of work I have never had freedom to grow the beard. Perceptions were that professionalism and integrity were synonymous with being a smooth man.

One of the incidental benefits of retirement I find is freedom from other people's expectations and impositions.

I was about thirty-six years of age and we returned from a month of family camping and I was sporting a mustache. One of my parishioners (not Christine) told me if I didn't shave it off, she would not return to church. I went home, cut half of it and walked to her house to cheekily tell her, "I'll meet you half way."

Time was when parishioners had the impression that they could control their pastors. Well, often they did control them. Times have changed and newer generations do not capitulate so readily to someone else's mores or preferences. Fortunately for me, I am finally old enough and job-less, so that no matter what you think of my beard, "Frankly Scarlett ...."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Retirement Roadmap

Financial Roadmaps for one’s journey toward retirement are plentiful and are intended for readers who are en route to retirement. Seldom do you read an article directed to people who, like me have already arrived at the destination. I found one this week. A local newspaper has a piece entitled ’10 Principals for Retirement. The author Ian Forbes tells me the following.
1. Map out your goals, that is, enter retirement with a strategy in place.
2. Plan for a long and full retirement.
3. Start smart with spending, that is, don’t outlive your resources.
4. Inflation doesn’t retire, so, if you can, invest with growth potential.
5. Prepare for the unexpected, or set some reserves aside.
6. Don’t reach for yield, that is, don’t invest in suppose high yield bonds or stock.
7. Maintain a good health portfolio, that is, keep yourself in good shape.
8. Keep retirement from being taxing, that is, withdraw from accounts to be tax efficient.
9. Define your legacy, that is make sure that your estate plans and documents are up to date.
10. Remember your annual check-up with regard to your financial reserves and investments.

This is helpful counsel but Christine and I must customize the principals within our experience. Our strategy is fluid and in formation rather than in place. Our goals are short term and are open to change. I am not considering any long-term or full-time commitments for at least one year. I am painting and writing. We are going to France for two months. We will travel, she’ll learn French, and I will paint. We will touch up our house, paint etc. We are doing the travelling now in the next five years, realizing that as surely as energy has dissipated in the last five, we will be capable of less by age 70-75. I’m a realist so I spend it now. Does inflation worry me? Some! We will be careful – we always have been. I learned my lesson a few years ago when we put money in some stock with great promises and we lost during a world wide down cycle. We are not repeating that. I am going to be so low-income that taxes are not going to disturb me greatly. Yep, I need to update my will and testament, but I expect that like my dad, the legacy I leave will be more along the line of example and memories than estate and money.

I have to be careful too that I don’t strategize God right out of the life equation.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

He Promised

An inadvertent visit to a website gave me a verse and a statement for the day. It reads as more than that – perhaps a worldview and a life motto.

May the one whom men did not crown,
the one whom men cannot dethrone, be
the foundation upon which we live and
breathe and understand our being.

Know therefore today, and take it to
your heart, that the LORD, He is God
in heaven above and on the earth below;
there is no other. Deuteronomy 4:39

Retirement issues fade substantially in view of Him. Solutions and answers are resident with Him. I come back to a loyalty by which I lived my career life – commitment to God and what He has said in His Word, the Bible. I revive my position of surrender since my Father knows best. Being a dependent is not undignified when one belongs to the King of kings who owns everything and has pledged to care for you forever.

Strange how over the course of time, a have-nothing undergraduate student who was grateful for anything that was above the base income and knew always that the Lord would provide what was needed, could become so independent as to worry about how to live on a little again. I return to my God who will supply all my needs according to His riches in glory. It’s not a platitude I don’t think. That’s His promise. I am choosing to rest in that today.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Everyone has a Plan for My Life

You might be amazed at the advice that is available for retirees or people heading to that classification. Lita Epstein has written 'Working After Retirement For Dummies' and Amazon has 25 used & new copies available for 33 cents which is all some of us can afford.

Lynn O'Shaughnessy has written the 'Retirement Bible' and there are 17 used & new copies for 45 cents, and Robert C. Carlson has written 'The New Rules of Retirement.'

A couple of titles I love. 'Gringos in Paradise: An American Couple Builds Their Retirement Dream House in a Seaside Village in Mexico' by Barry Golson and 'This Old Man and the Sea: How My Retirement Turned Into a Ten-Year Sail Around the World' by Robert S. Ashton.

Don’t those latter titles open up possibilities?

Just about everyone who has known me expects that I will return to Christian ministry of some formal kind. I have been a public figure with leadership skills, and abilities to write and to speak. I have an obligation to use these it is inferred. Yet the conclusion to which I came several months ago is that I have been released from this responsibility for full-time Christian work. I can recall twenty years ago pontificating about seniors who shut down their service to relax until kingdom come. I believe now that what is important for a man or woman who is following God, is to be listening and to be available. I have given myself one year to be quiet to discern how to spend the next segment of life.

Currently this is what I am hearing and doing. I am painting pictures, have sold some and will sell others. This outlet introduces me to people whom I would otherwise not meet. Being light in one’s community is emitted in subtle ways as well as overt public ways. A local news rag recently interviewed me for an article entitled ‘Pastor to Painter.’ I am painting a picture for a local golf course in exchange for one year’s family golf membership. Golfing with my grandkids may be what God wants me to do. I have completed a children’s novel which someone has promised to publish, the proceeds for which will be dedicated to the care of widows and orphans and feeding the poor. The book espouses family values, respect for parents, faith, love, hope within a fictional presentation. It may affect lives.

As a teenager I memorized John Milton’s ‘On His Blindness’ in which Milton reminded himself that even though his blindness might impair his writing, “they also serve who only stand and wait.” I will also still serve but perhaps in different ways than I have for 40 years.

Friday, September 19, 2008

What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Old?

I was awkwardly negotiating my teen years when I was asked “What do you want to be?” I answered, “I want to be fifty years old.” That puzzling response was clear enough to me. I wanted to skip past all the tough stuff of life and arrive at an age where everything was settled. What was I thinking?

I have skipped to age 66 and I am feeling as superfluous as US Route 66. Unable to recapture my thirties, forties or fifties, it is once again time to ask “What do you want to do when you grow up, or at least grow older?” My genetics suggest that if I live as long as my father who in April 2008 passed away at age 93, I have another 27 years – good grief! But I didn’t observe my father using all those additional retirement years to build his resume or his record of accomplishments and achievements. I haven’t been convinced that anything meaningful is ahead. Perhaps it’s my first-born, A-type nature to even look for that. Or, perhaps it’s just that I am feeling sorry for myself. No, it’s neither option. It’s simply that I have to recognize a new opportunity that involves new freedoms, new challenges and new objectives and a lot of years to realize them.

I was learning this as I reflected on the Vancouver Sun story about Kurt Drocholl who last Monday tried a solo climb of Mount Baker’s summit. His right ankle gave out and he slipped into a crevasse on the Coleman Glacier. Injured, he might have died in the cold if not for Dallas Stobbe, an experienced mountaineer who heard his call and climbed into the crevasse and fashioned a pulley system to lift Drocholl to safety. Drocholl is planning another attempt to the summit and he is 72 years old.
Kurt has six years on me and he doesn’t quit. I won’t either. I have my health and my abilities and my ambitions and a wife who loves me and an insatiable appetite to try things and achieve things. But then I have another thought. For forty years Christine has encouraged me to fulfill my calling and dreams. I owe her a lot. The next twenty years are not all about me and if she wants to do something outrageous I will tell her, “go for it and I am with you all the way.” So, in April 2009 we will live in France for two months because that is where her heart has always longed to be. Her paternal French ancestry originated on the island of Guernsey between France and England.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Where's Grandpa?

I have great admiration for my Indo Canadian and Asian neighbours who live amicably within multi-generational homes. If they can do it why can't I? For one year my family, six adults and five grandchildren looked forward to one week together in an executive lakeside home in Tulameen BC. I was paying $2500 for the week.

I came to this week having just retired. My prior notions about retirement serenity, reflection, relaxing days with Christine, hours to read, write and paint got reshaped. I love my children and their spouses and I love my grandchildren. Guess what I have discovered. I can’t stand them all together 24/7 for more than one day.

I thought the title 'Where's Grandpa' would be less offensive than 'Holiday from Hades.' One day after our arrival at the happy holiday place I was looking for a hiding place. I found it in Christine’s and my bedroom. “Where’s Grandpa?” was a constant refrain. Gradually everyone knew that when the door was shut, I was lying on my bed, with ear plugs stuffed into my ears, either reading or sleeping. I spent hours there. I know I wasn’t much fun but I also know I have to cut myself some slack. I have never been retired before. I am getting accustomed to myself and my new identity. I am adjusting to living on a government pension. My grandchildren have never been 8, 6, 3, 3 and 1.5 years old and living, waking, eating, screaming, crying and sleeping in the same building with such a great echo and sliding doors. This week of togetherness was prefaced by the c-c-coziness of three of the grandchildren and their parents living in our home for two weeks because of a relocation from Edmonton and the need to live with us until it all settles out.

I am a good Grandpa to one or two at a time and I can be found when the volume is lower and the children are pleasant. We may do another family vacation one day, but likely in three separate cabins.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Panic Attack - My Mind is Going

I have been conscious of modest short term memory loss. Family and friends graciously suggested over recent months that it was my work load and the multiplicity of details with which I contended that caused me to be forgetful. Three years ago I suffered a grand mal seizure which turned out to be an anomaly. No cause was determined and I have been well with the exception of some memory slippage. This morning I was up at 6 am, made some coffee, sipped a cup, put my track shoes and headed out for my morning walk/run. I was determined to be on time so I hurriedly put the garbage cans and recycle box at the front curb. It occurred to me that all my neighbours were somewhat late in completing that same chore. Thirty minutes later as I peered through my studio window I realized that it was Wednesday and garbage collection happens on Fridays. I had a meltdown. Suddenly I was sure that incident, combined with other recent and similar occurrences (which I can't remember right now) was proof that I was suffering early symptoms of a disease that would render me mindless. I suddenly became very afraid. I went to see my wife Christine to talk seriously to her about this and found myself breaking down under the weight of the realization of my weakness. She comforted me ever so patiently and then resilient and practical as always she said, "It's no big deal. It's Wednesday for the rest of us and Friday for you. That's not bad. Every day is Friday for you - the beginning of the weekend. The rest of us are just a bit slow."

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

My Poor Books

Of the making of books there should be an end. For pastors of my generation the gathering of books was critical to the craft of sermon preparation and training others. I spent a lifetime assembling my library and I had the good fortune to pastor churches that provided a substantial book allowance. Eighteen years ago we made the big move from Toronto to Cloverdale, British Columbia. The moving company that transported our possessions under-guestimated the weight of my books and failed to charge me enough. Seven years ago my professional next move meant I no longer enjoyed the luxury of a church office with bookshelves sufficient to house my library. The books couldn't fit in our home. Many books remained in boxes in our garage for the six years I have served in an executive position for our denomination. This past August at the completion of my term and as I moved into retirement, I brought several hundred Bible commentaries to my home den/studio and also began to address what I could do with the remaining hundreds of books in the garage. The Salvation Army and other stores took some. Used bookstores don't have shelf space. Libraries don't want my books. My own children are not interested beyond the few volumes I have already forced upon them. I began to make contact with several younger pastors with a view to assisting them to build their own libraries. There was some interest but I found that young pastors have CD libraries of resource material. I have Stanley's 1860 published chronicle of his location of David Livingston in Africa, but that book and the rest of my space hungry collection is not attactive to people any longer. One of my personal retirement realities is that I cannot keep my entire library and it is of little value to others.