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R&D in the Home Lab
— Dr. Dirt contemplates endings and beginnings and endings —
I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time this year working on R and D: doing research and development into Retirement and Death. You’d think these would be fairly straightforward and, in the first case at least, reasonably pleasant to think about. But each has been presenting its own problems.
In my youth, I’d been led to believe that I could retire at 55 and move on to other things that intrigued me. When I reached 55 and looked at my thin-shelled nest egg, I thought maybe I could hatch into a new life if I waited until 62. At 62, I stared into the black hole of the Great Recession, coupled with massive medical bills over several years. So okay, maybe 65. But at 65, in addition to a scrawnier 401K and depressed equity in my home, Social Security had moved the retirement age to 66.
So when I cranked past 65, I began looking at compromise solutions. One idea was to throttle down to a half-time shift at the job for a few years, while establishing other sources of income. However, the half-time deal offered me was not exactly a gold parachute, more a Wile E. Coyote lead anvil: I could shift to half-time work at half-salary if I increased my workload 50%. So that didn’t work out very well. Of course, I could just quit, but that leaves me uncomfortably dependent on a marginal monthly retirement stipend.
I wonder what I’ll do?
Meanwhile, there’s that other piece, the death thing. As always, the bus could run me over tomorrow at 10:14 am, but the actuarial tables – those Delphic oracles of our age – give me another 18 years. That number uncannily coincides with the average of my parents’ ages when they died. So that’s my target: eighteen years and out, assuming I can avoid the bus.
Once you’ve posited such a terminus, you realize with a bit of a shock that you need to “put things in order.” In my case, while there aren’t a whole lot of things, what things there are seem to be in total disorder. So this year has seen a great deal of organization of files and the creation of a new improved will. And after some years of very good intentions, I finally completed my “living will,” – a legally binding statement of when to pull the plug and who gets to pull it.
The question of who pulls the plug is a dicey one. The most likely candidates are those who love you the most (partners, off-spring, best friends), but those are also the ones most emotionally invested in seeing you live. For a period, I actually considered using my ex-wife, then decided she might pull it on the early side. The good news here is that if it gets to this point, you won’t really know or care who pulls the plug.
As I said earlier, I’ve spent the last several years intending to get these forms and legalities completed, always putting it off. What’s the rush? Well, as those of you in your sixth and seventh decades realize, time speeds up as the hair turns gray and as old friends and relatives precede you to the great beyond. It felt like a major victory when I finished it all up. It wasn’t difficult, but did require some thoughtful examination of some fairly unexamined areas.
And to leave you with at least one related landscape thought before I … move … on: There are only two guarantees in the landscape: Death and Taxus. (I know, I’ve used that line before, but geezers never stop repeating the same old jokes.)
Dr. Dirt would just die to be in the shoes of John Hart, Professor of Horticultural Technology, Thompson School of Applied Science, University of New Hampshire, Durham.