10/18/2007 – Printed in the NATIONAL section of The St Petersburg Times Newspaper
If you haven’t heard of Kathleen Casey-Kirschling, you’re probably a whippersnapper living at home with your parents. Seriously, if, like me, you know Casey-Kirschling’s story, you’re probably fast approaching geezerhood or you’re already a senior.
Casey-Kirschling, a retired Maryland teacher who was born at 12:00:01 on Jan. 1, 1946, applied Monday for Social Security benefits, making her the nation’s first baby boomer to apply, during a public ceremony no less.
She’ll become eligible to receive benefits in January when she turns 62. Officials, of course, see her application as a harbinger of the flood of government payouts expected to strain the federal budget when an estimated 80-million other boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, become eligible for benefits.
The considerable press surrounding Casey-Kirschling hit me in the gut. You see, I turned 62 this week, and I’m eligible for Social Security benefits even though I have no plans to retire, ever. What I mean is that I may not be on the St. Petersburg Times payroll in later years, but I plan to be writing about something for someone somewhere until the day I die.
My heroes are old folks such as singer Tony Bennett. At 81, he still wows fans, young and old. His smile remains infectious, and his voice still promises that, as one hit song suggests, the best is yet to come.
During a recent interview, Bennett told the AARP magazine, in an article titled “The New Kid” – yes, I’m a dues-paying member of AARP – that age breeds enthusiasm. “When you get older, you count your blessings a lot more,” he said. “It’s a glorious day to take a walk in the park. When you’re younger, you say, ‘Oh, another day.’ I prefer this age better.”
Based on my experiences, Bennett is right. In my life, few things are better than standing on my front porch and watching the sun rise over Tampa Bay or sitting on the Gulf of Mexico and watching the sun sink into the water. I do both every chance I get and savor the moment each time.
For the older person who has a wholesome self-concept, no day is just another day. Each day is yet another opportunity for new experiences and deeper insights.
The older I get, the hungrier I’m becoming – the more I read and the more I travel, the more new and enriching opportunities I desire.
I’m not alone. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, more adults age 55 to 79 are putting retirement on hold to change careers, start new businesses, or pursue advanced degrees. Sure, many of these people face tough challenges, but they’re following their dreams, often risking the loss of friends and relatives and material wealth.
All my life, I’ve heard that the older you get, the more conservative you get. It’s not happening to me. I’m becoming more liberal. I believe more fervently that a woman has a right to an abortion and that gay people have every right that so-called straight people have. I’m a stauncher environmentalist than I was 10 years ago.
As I observe events, I believe more and more that we created God in our respective images to justify our deeds and misdeeds and sins. I don’t think that’s the view of someone succumbing to old age or who’s growing more conservative, at least not religiously.
Casey-Kirschling’s application for early benefits caused me to ponder what growing old means to me. After all, I’m 62 and can retire early. What shall I do? For sure, I won’t become conservative and get stuck in low gear or neutral.
I’m adopting Tony Bennett’s philosophy: “When someone questions me about retiring, I say, ‘No, I have too much to learn.'”