Wilhelm Friedrich Ludwig von Hohenzollern, King of Prussia and later the first Emperor of the German Empire, was thinking things over, and in 1881 he ended up sending a letter to the Parliament to this effect: "Those who are disabled from work by age and invalidity," he said, "have a well-grounded claim to care from the state."
Okay, this doesn't exactly sound like your average King of Prussia, let alone the Emperor of Anything. But Wilhelm the First had a couple of cards up his sleeve. For one thing, he was 84 years old and still working in 1881, so it really didn't sound like he was maneuvering for a pension for himself. But the brains of this operation belonged, not to the Emperor, but to the Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, who first came up with the idea of government-paid retirement, and who in 1889, just after Wilhelm's death, actually implemented the first such system. The German retirement age was set at 70, then lowered to 65 in 1916. (Bismarck himself died in 1898 at eighty-three.)
So I owe Bismarck a favor, maybe. In the States, the Social Security Administration went along with 65 as the retirement age; projected shortfalls in funding led Washington to gradually increase the age to 67. Shortfalls are still projected, though instead of pushing retirement age further away, the most common response today involves expanding the income range over which Social Security tax is levied. In the meantime, I'm basically just waiting around for my 66th birthday, at which time I go off the active-worker rolls and on to whatever comes afterward. At my present level of fatigue, I'm hoping that whatever comes afterward isn't too strenuous.
Not everyone, I assume, will be delighted with my departure. Roger Green, who has just recently embarked on the Life of [Comparative] Leisure, recounts his own story:
Anyway, everybody knows Iím leaving by now. Some are likely ticked off because I didn't tell them sooner or I didn't tell them in person. My current state director said that if he'd known before staff training had ended, he would have announced it then, which is precisely why I hadn't told him.
I know that feeling all too well. And there's another emotional reaction just beyond the corner: "Not only does the standard retirement plan leave you with little life left, the chances of you being in poor health and unable to enjoy it also increases."
Of course, I knew that was coming. My health has been deteriorating for the past three or four years, and treatment options at this point have dwindled to "Don't make things any worse." I have no clue as to when my number will actually be up: family history says that we can go on quite a while if we didn't get taken out early, and having lost four younger siblings and my mom, none of whom made it much past fifty, I suppose I'm slated for "quite a while." (My dad made it to seventy-nine.)
As for the "unable to enjoy it" bit, well, I am seldom actually bored, although moments of genuine happiness are going to be few and far between. In other words, nothing will really have changed. And God knows I need a rest.
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