Viva the ‘third age’

2007-12-04 00:00

In just a few weeks I shall have retired — again. I retired from university four years ago and took on instead a large and busy parish, where I have spent four happy and industrious years. And now it is time to retire again, properly.

“What will you do once you are retired?” people ask. What a strange question. The whole point of retirement is that you don’t have to do anything. I plan to rise late, make a strong cup of tea and watch the children’s programmes on BBC Prime.

I will watch Teletubbies with all the enthralment of a two-year- old. I am comforted to learn that Teletubbies was the late philosopher Iris Murdoch’s favourite programme after she began to succumb to Alzheimer’s disease. Perhaps we all grow younger in our minds as we grow older in our bodies.

“But you’ll be so bored,” they say. Not so; time has a way of filling itself. My wife hopes I will do the housework and indeed I expect I will dab around a little with the mop and flick the feather duster over the surfaces, as I meditate upon higher things such as what to have with my morning tea.

“But don’t you have hobbies?” they ask. Well, no, actually. My work has been my hobby and the idea of woodturning or butterfly collecting does not appeal. Nor do I play golf, bridge or even bowls.

“But then you’ll just die,” they say. “That’s what happens when busy men become suddenly idle.” People talk of retirement as the “third age”. I’m not sure what constituted ages one and two. I am sure I have lived through at least 16 ages — babyhood, early childhood, school days, high school days, and so on, each distinct and different. But if retirement is the third age I notice nobody talks about a fourth. So I suppose retirement is the last and final one before the great reckoning.

But I don’t think I will die just yet. In age 11 of my 16 ages I dabbled in leadership and management training. Our mantra was “just trust the process”. If you were religious you could translate that as “just trust in providence”. If you were agnostic, you took it to mean that there was no point in worrying too much about the future, which would in the end take care of itself. Life is a process, working its way to some sort of destination. Much later on I learnt of the work of Alfred North Whitehead who developed a whole process philosophy. Jesus put it rather more simply: “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.”

My experience through the 16 ages (or is it 17?) has been that life does go in a series of steps. As Ecclesiastes has it: “For everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which has been planted.”

We pass though childhood, teenagehood, adulthood, various careers and eventually reach retirement and ultimately, I suppose, senility. Each stage was hard to anticipate. And yet each stage brought its own pleasures, challenges and rewards.

So I move on again. And I don’t know what I shall do, but if past experience is a guide, it will all work out and new pleasures, new challenges and new rewards will arrive. And is there a fourth (or 18th) stage? Is there something after the stage of retirement? I suppose the answer depends on your view of the afterlife. When that time comes that will be a challenge indeed. For myself, I believe that the process continues and I hope I will enter it with courage and with peace. For now, life moves on. There will be great new experiences to come. Viva.

• Ronald Nicolson is a retired academic who is currently the rector of a local Anglican parish.

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