Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 593 Worry

This is Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery.

Just as the sun set over the bay my wife and I happened to meet two neighbors also out for a late evening walk. Weather was the first topic of conversation. We knew nothing about the weather except that it was a wonderful evening. They knew a lot about weather in other places. Hot weather. It had been the hottest summer ever in 21 cities in the country. “Global warming,” he said. He went on, and on, and on, and on.

Can't we even enjoy a sunset. Why is we must always have some major, insurmountable worry. I have enough worry about my cracked windshield, about my discolored toenails, the crick in my back. But no, the planet is burning up. Attention must be paid. It seems to me like retirement might be an appropriate time to say that is enough. I'm going to let someone else worry about that. I want to enjoy my last few years. Or perhaps just days.

When I was born we were deep into a massive world war. Millions of people fought and died. Tens of millions across the globe were starved, tortured, maimed and persecuted. We prevailed and somehow went on to new heights of production, consumption and personal gratification. And all of this just after weathering, excuse the use of the word, just after weathering the depression. Jobs disappearing, land blowing away, families uprooted, food lines, winters with no heat and the banks with no money. It was a worry to everyone. I don't remember the depression. It was just before my time. But I have heard many tales of it from my parents generation all of my life. It was not a good time to be alive. Worry was demanded.

Around the age of ten I remember spreading the Des Moines Register newspaper on the floor and gazing at the picture page. Black and white photos from the Korean front. The Chinese communist were threatening to jump into the war. MacArthur was threatening to lay down a nuclear curtain along the Korean/Chinese border, the Yalu River. Now that was something to worry about. Nuclear bombs had ushered out the ways of WWII and substituted in the worry of nuclear annihilation. This was not a minor concern or worry.

We were taught to duck and cover. A race to build bigger bombs and missile became an obsession. We colored nuclear warheads on charts. Breakfast cereals included plastic missiles intended to deliver these bombs. As a little kid I collected the little red, yellow or blue things. Communist were godless people who were out to conquer the world. We had to be strong and definitely had to worry. Worry big time. Then there was puberty and all the worries it calls into being. Jobs, cars, girls, manhood, athletics and academics, college and paying for it. Worries were never in short supply.

And then Sputnik was launched and we realized they could reach us with missiles. The nuclear cloud we had envisioned was no illusion. My wife's uncle Frank built an incredible bomb shelter underneath his garage in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Food, water and weapons were stockpiled. In most people's minds the federal budget could not grant enough money to the arms race. We needed more bombs for massive retaliation.

This massive worry was followed by the Cuban Missile Crisis. The communist were placing missiles capable of laying down nuclear bombs all along the east coast in Cuba just 90 miles from Florida. The Naval bases on the east coast emptied out as I drove into Washington D.C for the first time. Worry was very justified - big time. Looking back this threat seems to have been even worse than we imagined at the time. But we avoided catastrophe. The communist threat then transferred to Vietnam. We not only had to protect our shores but we had to protect all shores. The domino effect was a seemingly real threat. No matter the location. We worried enough to sacrifice tens of thousands of our young men in a war. Eventually that war ended but the world didn't. And neither did our worries.

I wanted to think about passing college classes, getting a job, getting married, having children, paying the rent. But at the same time there were bigger fish to fry. In the last half of the l960s Rachel Carson published “Silent Spring” and Garrett Hardin, “Tragedy of the Commons”. In 1969 I started teaching a class focusing on those two books. We didn't know what to entitle the class. We finally settled on a seemingly newly used word, “Environment”. The first question everyone asked us about was, “What is that all about?”

The following year the first Earth Day celebration took place. The air, water, animals, plants, our entire earth was threatened by poisons, exploitation and callous indifference as to how we make money. We really had something to worry about now and it was all tied up with the exploding Population Bomb. It seemed like we didn't have a chance at survival. The earth was awash with people. We would soon all starve and/or kill one another in a basic struggle for survival.

This worry has now evolved into the danger of Global Warming. Environmental crisis has been with us for a long time. It seems like most of civilization is just waking from a forty year nap. Now our worry has plenty of company.

On top of all that came 9/11. Terrorist became another major concern. We sacrificed many of the freedoms guaranteed in our constitution instantly. The legislature approved unprecedented powers to the executive branch of our government. We were told we must worry about our local sewage treatment plant and our supply of fresh water. Our ferry terminal, our airport and our shipping ports. We weren't safe anywhere. We should be worried constantly. Nail clippers became instruments of terror, shampoo bottles were confiscated at airports.

What is going on here? As we gazed at the beautiful red sunset my neighbor gave it one last shot. “Pollution from China drifting across from China is responsible for the color,” he said.

I just wanted to enjoy the sunset and the beautiful calm evening. I wanted to ride my bike, play my guitar, talk to some friends. Worry is something I would like to leave behind at sometime in my life at least for a little while. Retirement may be the perfect time; the only time. If not now, when?

This is Retirement Talk.

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