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THE BIG LXV

by Patricia Beurteaux

 

When you reach the age of 40, there’s some mild joking. Life begins at 40. That sort of thing. But you can still boogie.  

50 is a little more serious: bi or trifocals, sensible shoes, the realisation that 'Freedom 55’ is just an advertising slogan, fencing in the middle-age spread. But the kids have possibly gone and the thrill may not have.  

60 can be easily ignored because you’ve had practice, ignoring the former decades. See above. (Just as a side note, I have issues with the term `sexagenarian’. A goodly number of women are single again, but who cares? Sigh.)  

65 is different. At least it is for me — 65 and one week old as I sit here. I’m still in shock. How did this happen? I’m not ready. It’s like going to school and discovering there’s a exam you didn’t study for, and it counts for your final mark. Holy unprintable!

It doesn’t help that, here in Ontario, one receives a congratulatory message from the Minister of Health. What is it really saying? `Congratulations. You made it despite our best efforts to kill you.’? Or `Best of luck. You’re going to need it.’? I live in the North so I’m a bit sensitive about healthcare. No matter the country or system, doctors don’t like `remote’. (For heaven’s sake, we’re only 6 hours by car on good roads from Toronto and we have 2 golf courses, and a ski hill, and countless lakes. The fishing is great.)  

Now I have to tell you the letter was actually about extra health benefits we oldies get but you can see I’m still in a state of disbelief by my immediate response.  

Thanks to Otto von Bismarck, this is the designated retirement/no longer visible age. Of course, he figured few would live to the age of 65 and actually benefit from his pension plan, life expectancy at the time (1884) being 46.  

Really, when you look at that statement above, pension plans haven’t changed much as far as the basic premise is concerned, have they? Bismarck’s idea has just been tweaked a bit. We live longer, so pensions have to be honoured, in a manner of speaking, but the process of application, in my humble opinion, has been specifically designed to not only take over your waking hours doing the paperwork, but increase your blood pressure to dangerous levels. It’s the final test. If it doesn’t kill you, you win. Rather reminds me of Greek myths.  

Here in Canada, we have the Old Age Supplement. Note the terminology. It used to be called the Old Age Pension. By calling it a 'supplement’, there is the understanding that, as in the case of civil servants for example, one already has a work-related pension or other income. If you were silly enough to have been the victim of a re-structuring, or had made a career in a field that doesn’t pay decent wages much less benefits, or became ill, you are going to be living with an income well below the poverty line. And the term 'supplement ‘ communicates that so well. And it’s all your fault.  

We know that a good indicator of your chances in life is your placement on the track when the starting gun goes off, so it’s a kind of Orwellian punishment, isn’t it?  

Living is a second-by-second-experience, and we make millions of decisions — mostly quite unconsciously — that pile one on top of another, changing our history, and therefore our future, irreversibly. Only an economist could really believe our final years are within our control. Whose life turns out the way they thought it would? Even those who follow The Rules?  

65 is a spotlight. As you sift through your life’s worth of documentation — no, we don’t exist if there are no records — you re-visit all the ups and downs.

How very young your parents were when they married. How vulnerable and innocent. I look at their wedding picture and see a couple of kids. At their age, I had no plans to settle down. There was travelling to be done; parties to party; fun to be had.  

It helped that no one had ever asked me to settle down. In fact, I have never been asked The Big Question despite the fact that I was married. Is it too late?

Because I lived and worked in more than one country (that throws a spanner in the works, let me tell you), I had to get together an absolute mountain of 'evidence' (yes, they call it that) to prove that, beside basic existence, I had lived and worked in each place from this day/month/year to this dd/mm/yyyy. There were a lot. I didn’t think that I was supposed to bookkeep my life.  

Well, my dears, birth certificates, travel documentation of any kind, marriage and divorce papers, tax records, school records, whatever records. I’m sure I am solely responsible for keeping Canada Post afloat this year.  

It’s cheap therapy, though. When it’s all out there, spread across the living room floor, you see your life in a different way. You see the patterns. You remember the pain. You feel all the emotions as you take a side trip through your children’s young lives. And, finally, forgiveness of your self and others, and the slight chill as you apprehend that life does end.

Well, put on your cardies because the upside of all this is real freedom.   If you’re game.


Born and raised in a small Ontario town that became a large bedroom community post-war, Pat Beurteaux began her career as a primary school teacher, a career that permitted her to travel to Australia as a `working holidayer' in the mid-60s.  At that time any British Commonwealth citizen could travel and work in any other Commonwealth country under certain conditions; a good deal of fun was had by all.

Pat now lives in the City of Elliot Lake, Ontario, Canada - once famous for uranium and now for the super-energetic retirees who make up the major part of the population. Is there a connection?

You may reach Pat by emailing zenimation (at) sympatico.ca

©2007 Patricia Beurteaux for Seniorwomen.com
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