Behind the Scene
by Randy Limbird
Editor & Publisher, El Paso Scene
Nearly everything I needed to know about aging, I learned in my twenties.
I worked about five years back then for the Social Security Administration, taking claims, making house calls and sometimes giving retirement seminars. My office’s district included some of the wealthiest areas of Southern California, and some communities that were relatively poor, with nearly every ethnic and racial minority represented. Most of the people I dealt were elderly, while some were younger and disabled.
Most of my one-on-one interviews were with people filing for retirement. Back then the average age of people signing up for Social Security was well under age 65. The reduction for taking early benefits was less than it is now, and private pensions were more generous then.
Nearly everyone seemed happy when they applied for retirement. They looked forward to more leisure time and travel, and less stress. Occasionally I had a reason to interview older people, mostly men, several years after retirement. What I noticed is that the healthiest, most energetic individuals were those who kept working at jobs they enjoyed. The people who seemed to fare the best were the ones who owned their own businesses or had flexible arrangements with their employer that allowed them to cut back their hours.
Of course, the option to keep working was dependent on good health. No one enjoys old age without it.
Money wasn’t a major factor in happiness among these seniors, as long as they had enough to cover the basics, with maybe some left over to at least travel to see family. What was most important financially was having a paid-off house and no other major debts, and sufficient savings to cover the occasional home repair, car trouble or other contingencies. Married seniors almost always fared better since two could live more cheaply together than apart.
That also tied into “rootedness,” which I found was important for quality of life among seniors. If they were surrounded by long-time neighbors, had plenty of family and friends nearby, were involved in church and other organizations, then they flourished well into their 80s.
All of this seemed somewhat academic to me at the time, but now it’s real. I turn 65 this month, and now I am now one of “them.” I’m the guy I used to look at from across my desk at the Social Security office and wonder if I would ever be that old.
I’m grateful that I learned those lessons on aging at such a young age. I’m fortunate that I decided to start my own business 25 years ago and I still enjoy working at it. The Scene allows me flexible hours and freedom to pursue other activities. I’ve been blessed with good health, a loving wife, great family and friends, a home and neighborhood that I never want to leave … the list goes on and on.
Nevertheless, it still seems surreal to see that Medicare card in my wallet. While I’m holding off on receiving Social Security, I still qualify for a small pension from a company I worked at before I became self-employed. And of course, now I qualify for all the senior citizen discounts!
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If you’re one of the people reading this column hot off the press, there’s still time to join me on New Year’s Eve for the annual Hike Up Cristo Rey. See details on Page 3. As I write this, the forecast is for sunny and warm weather.
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