In his book, A History of Retirement, William Graebner tells the story of the brilliant medical professor, William Osler, who, upon his reluctant leave from John Hopkins hospital, gave what is now known as “The Osler Valedictory.” Now, I have endured numerous graduation addresses in my tenure as a University Board member, but The Osler Valedictory address is still remembered in the history books!
He proposed two theses:
One was “The comparative uselessness of men above forty years of age.” The second was, “The uselessness of men above sixty years of age, and the incalculable benefit it would be in commercial, political and professional life if, as a matter of course, men stopped work at this age….” He continued, “In that charming novel, The Fixed Period, Anthony Trollope discusses the practical advantages in modern life of return to this ancient usage (ritual), and the plot hinges on the admirable scheme of a college into which at sixty men retired for a year of contemplation before a peaceful departure by chloroform.” Basically, proposing mandatory euthanasia by the age of sixty-one for the benefit of society.
To say the least, this created a stir in the print media when this was published in 1910.
Euthanasia continues to skirt the forefront of public life, but a different form has evolved into what we know today as “Retirement.” In 1905, George Harvey wrote a response to Osler’s speech in Harpers Weekly Editor. He wrote, “The end of life could be a “pleasure time” in which adequate preparation would be followed by a variety of frivolous and irresponsible, but ultimately satisfying activities.” “Pleasure time” and “frivolous and irresponsible activities” are the first words to describe what we know today as “Retirement.”
The term “Retirement” did not come into use until 1919. It was a planned response by the industrial moguls of the early 1900s to move aging men off the assembly line to make room for cheaper-waged and stronger young men entering the workforce. It appears to be a business decision driven by the “bottom line.”
The movement gained steam with the addition of pension plans, social security, and a well-oiled “Psy Ops” (Psychological Operations) advertising campaign to make retirement so attractive that everyone would buy into the idea. Ads portrayed strong, healthy, mature adults cruising, playing golf, and partying, all with laughing, happy faces. Who wouldn’t want to live this life? It created an expectation that everyone after age 65 would lay down the plow and the sad face, pick up the golf clubs and lavish vacations and put on the happy face.
And for the most part, this worked! Retirement became the goal of life, a frivolous and irresponsible pleasure time of life, not realizing that every generation before this would have been shocked to see this pattern for the end of life.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am realistic to know that as we mature in the last quarter of life, our physical energy diminishes. And please don’t think golfing, cruising, and attending parties are bad. Please invite me to your next party! But is that what you want to be your legacy at your death? “He really loved golf…. She really loved to cruise….”
Okay, I want to get out of the closet. I’m a Baby Boomer and proud of it! My generation is sitting on possibly the most wealth any generation will possess in history. We have amassed and will inherit from our parents, “The Greatest Generation,” over a trillion dollars in the US alone! We are probably the most educated generation and will be the healthiest generation living the longest due to medical advances.
So what am I, what are you, what are we going to do with all this wealth, wisdom, and vitality in an amazing time in history where we can make the greatest mark for Christ?
My friend Erwin McManus proposes, “living a life that will take your breath away.” What if we viewed our final days as the best opportunity to use our back third of life to make much of God in a world that is so desperate for the hope only Christ can supply?
My parents, Ralph and Ruth Neighbour Jr., are in their 90s and using their days to serve the body of Christ with their gifts. Dad is teaching a seminary class. Mom still shares the love of Jesus with her neighbors. They both use their wealth to serve the underserved around the world. The Great Commission and the Great Commandment were NOT put on the shelf at age 65, 75, or 85! No, it simply morphed into their ability to deliver Christ to the world.
As I turn a corner at age 69, Pam and I have no plans to slow down. We are investing in our grandchildren and sowing the love and truth of Christ into the next generation of our family and the people around us. Pam continues to use her gifts to serve women in ministry here in California and around the nation. Our team at CSBC and I continue to help our pastors around the state fulfill the commission to make disciples of all the nations. The Lord willing, these will be our life themes until the day he takes us home to be with Him.
So, what are your gifts, abilities, and resources that are still on the table waiting to be used by the Master for His use? Who are you partnering with to make a difference in your church community? It’s not too late to get back in the game. Whatever you do, DO NOT waste the best days of your life!