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No retirement means no sequined cocktail napkins

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Lynne D. Schwabe Lynne D. Schwabe
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Lynne D. Schwabe is the director of development for the National Youth Science Foundation. She can be reached at schwabestatejournal@gmail.com.

Andy Rooney once noted the paradox that the idea of living a long life appeals to everyone … but the idea of getting old doesn’t appeal to anyone. As each birthday gently wanders by, I am beginning to understand what he was talking about.

Most of my friends are now retired. Where I used to pride myself on being the youngest person in the room (I married an older man, so often I actually was the youngest in the room by several years), I now look around and realize that I am one of the oldest. It’s always disconcerting when talking to a younger person to realize that I am even older than this person’s mother. It also hurts my feelings.

Retirement is a concept I doubt I’ll ever be able to enjoy. Financial setbacks assure that I’ll not be able to save up enough money even for a vacation, let alone to retire. I’m OK with this, however, as long as I can continue to hobble to work.

I now understand with blazing clarity what a friend meant when he said, “Middle age is when work is a lot less fun, and fun is a lot more work.”

Knowing I can’t retire also makes me realize I probably will never achieve some lifetime goals, like reading the Encyclopedia Britannica from cover to cover, starting with “A.” Or writing a great novel. Or even a good but trashy one. Like traveling around the world, studying the harp again or being a contestant on “The Next Food Network Star.”

The contrast between me and others my age who are retired can be galling. When I fly to Clearwater on Allegiant Air, the plane is filled with jolly, older, tanned people — all of whom winter in Florida. I hate Florida, but I can admit that I am just the tiniest bit jealous. They talk about playing golf, they talk about shopping and they could be speaking urdu for all I understand of their lifestyle.

I’d like to try having days stretch endlessly in front of me with nothing on my “To Do” list. Would I go mad? I think I’d be cute as all get out. I’d wear a tennis dress and not have to actually play tennis. I’d go to museums and to gallery openings and talk nonsense with the artists. I’d flirt with young men, and they’d have to be nice to me because I am old. I’d go to cocktail parties without having to worry about staying up past my bedtime. This is frightening: I might even want to glue sequins onto cocktail napkins like my mother used to, to give as gifts to friends.

Some friends of mine who are in their 80s and not challenged by restricted bank accounts are aging in fine style. They tool around Charleston in a brand new two-seater Mercedes convertible. She drives, and he sits on the passenger side with his cane sticking up out of the wheel well. They have hired a chef so that they can entertain effortlessly. They have three houses where they live at will in various, charming places, and all decorated beautifully. For goodness sakes, they have staff, because neither of them is going to spend time Swiffer-ing the floor or making beds. One of them looked at me wryly recently and said, “The only problem with retirement is that you never get a day off.” It doesn’t seem to be bothering them much.

I tell myself that working until I’m 95 is a good thing; that it will keep my brain alert and keep my body … well, I guess there’s no hope for my body. I take perverse pleasure when someone asks my age and then says, “I just can’t believe it.” I like to think this means that they think I look about 20 years younger than I am instead of the reverse. Then, I tell myself that staying so active will give me time to bring about greater humanity within all mankind, donate a kidney and in my spare time win a Nobel Prize.

Not realistic? OK, I’ll fall back on being “The Next Food Network Star.” The judges will swoon over my secret weapon … darling sequined cocktail napkins!