By the time I left England, almost six months later, I was approaching 21, or as my friends jokingly described it: the last birthday you can ever truly look forward to. I had spent six months living in London, but also traveling across Western Europe and when I arrived back in the States, all I could think about was planning my next trip. With some friends from high school, I decided to spend a month after college graduation traveling through Northern Ireland, England and France.
While in France we visited le mont Saint Michel, a monastery community on a tidal island, accessible by foot during some parts of the year and by boat other times. Intending to make the most of our visit we trekked up 900 stairs toward the top of the monastery. Exhausted, sweating, and eager to reach the top, we found ourselves slowing our pace to accommodate two elderly couples ahead of us who were making the same climb. As they approached the top, they paused to join hands. I don’t remember their exact exchange but it was something like, “We’ve worked hard all of our lives and we’ve finally made it to the top.”
I was humbled upon hearing their words because it reminded me of my paternal grandparents who, like these folks, had worked hard all of their life and once they became pensioners were able to travel the world. My maternal grandparents did not have the same luxury; my grandmother became bedridden and she died before she and my grandfather had any chance to travel. Both sets of grandparents had worked and saved, but only one set was fortunate enough to be in good health as retirees.
When I reflect on this scene almost ten years later, I am struck by the heartbreaking notion that beyond being fortunate enough to be healthy in my “Golden Years”, like so many of my trentaginarian friends, my husband and I may not ever truly retire. In my adult working life, I have rarely opened a statement from my retirement savings account where there isn’t a deficit. With the end of defined pension plans, I often fear that my husband and I will work until we die. Perhaps the portrait I paint is too bleak, perhaps things will get better, but in case they don’t: we’ve decided to walk, now.