Living Fully to the End

Posted: March 7, 2018 in Life's Design
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Considering living options as life winds down is an activity in which everyone will ultimately engage. Retirement planning is imperative. Many people immediately think about structuring their finances in a way that a sufficient amount of funds will be available for living out their final days. Without question, that is a huge piece of retirement planning. But that’s not all there is to ensuring quality, and even quantity, of life as it winds down. Another design component that goes into this last phase of living on this earth is whether or when to settle into a retirement community.

I am in that last phase, and have been for several years. I am finding fulfillment in a stimulating life at seventy-seven years of age. I am not living in a retirement community. In fact, my current living arrangement is quite the opposite. I live in an eight-flour condominium of seventy-seven suites in the urban center of Saint Louis, Missouri. I have lived here for almost ten years. The average age of the residents in my building is somewhere under forty, maybe closer to thirty. I thrive in this setting. There are several reasons for my contentment.

One reason I am energized by living in the middle of urbanity is the average age of the people among whom I live. I am stimulated by daily interaction with people who are younger rather than people of my cohort. People who are younger, even fifteen, twenty-five, or more than thirty years younger, are more stimulating and life-giving than people seventy-five and older. Conversation with younger people has a feel of being more “real” than a group of people in their late seventies. It is depressing to think about only being with people my age.

I am not disparaging people who have aged well. Many people I know who are in their seventies and eighties have much to offer and I enjoy the relationships and conversations I have with them. They have a certain wisdom and perspective on life that is impossible for younger people to have, sometimes even to comprehend. Younger people benefit from ineraction with people who have more years of lived experience than they have. However, I feel my life would begin to close in and anticipation of tomorrow would become less meaningful without younger people in the mix of my relationships. Living in an urban setting affords that luxury.

The phone rang while I was at home reading one evening recently. It was a friend in my building calling requesting my help—pastoral counseling, he called it. He was wanting to know how to help a friend who was resistant to the help, yet desperately needed it. I mention this incident because my friend is around thirty-five years old, forty years younger than me. He is probably the best friend I have in the condominium. There are other residents in the building, many who are in their thirties, some late twenty-somethings, and a few fifties and sixties. I have a relationship with many of these residents on one level or another. These kinds of relationships would not exist in a retirement community consisting solely of people sixty-five years old and up.

If my primary relationships were only with people my age all of whom are retired, I fear I would be sucked into a vortex that would increasingly narrow my world. Right now I have stimulating relationships with shop owners, restaurant workers, national park rangers, church members, postal employee, city park security person, defense attorney, retired engineer, Street cleaner, college freshman, house painter, art gallery artistic director, school teachers, social worker, school administrator, retired hospital administrator, seminary president, IT entrepreneur, real estate developer, non-profit executive, baristas, and the list goes on. This is a diverse group of people: African-American, Asian and Caucasian; very wealthy and homeless; highly educated and illiterate; socially adept and reclusive. If I were living in a retirement community, would I have such a wide ranging list of acquaintances, friends, and mutually supportive individuals with whom I would interact regularly? 

Not only is there a diversity of people with whom I have relationships of varying degrees, I also have a natural physical exercise program built into the design of my urban living. My incentive to exercise does not emanate from the need for physical stimulation, i.e. a gym membership or even just regularly showing up in the fitness room in the condominium. Rather, it is an integral part of daily activity. Living in a walkable community means that, as I go about regular daily activity, my body is stimulated by what is universally accepted as one of the best forms of exercises—walking. I can walk to the supermarket (1/2 mile), city hall (1/4 mile) dry cleaners (1/8 mile), many restaurants (between 1/4 mile to 1 1/2 miles), dentist (1/2 mile), barber (1/2 mile), coffee shops (1/4 mile to 1 1/2 miles), art gallery (1/2 mile), movie theatre (1 mile), national park (1 mile and the length of the park is 1 mile), post office (1/4 mile), entertainment—Peabody Auditorium (1/4 mile), Fox Theatre (1 1/2 miles), City Museum (1/4 mile) and Powell Symphony Hall (1 1/2 miles)—The War Memorial museum (1/2 mile), Central Library (1/4 mile). All of this and much more is within walking distance. If I lived in a secluded retirement village/community, or one in a pastoral setting, this would not be possible. As it is, most weeks I get my car out of the garage only twice, to go to church; although I have walked the 1 1/2 miles to church. I usually combine any shopping needed that is outside the urban core with those two trips. (I just checked my pedometer, I’ve walked 13.8 miles in three days.) During these walks I interact with people such as is those represented in the list above. 

If I lived in a typical retirement community, I wouldn’t have such diversity in my circle of daily interactions, thus the quality of my life would be greatly diminished . My thought patterns and concept development would increasingly become narrower and reflect the constricted outlook of people close to the end of their lives. From this perspective, postponing a move to a niche community of retired people and remaining active in the larger, more robust general society increases my vitality, global interests, better health, and general wellbeing. 

The time may come when my medical needs become greater than I can negotiate alone and my need for stimulation from the larger society, which includes generations younger than myself, becomes subservient to those medical/physical needs. At such a time, I would benefit more by being in a community designed for people in their “twilight” years and can best be addressed in a retirement community. 

For now, I choose to remain stimulated by the economical, generational, racial, educational, and financial diversity of the larger society where I live than move into a more constraining retirement enclave, particularly one located away from an urban setting. It is my belief that there is a need for more communities for aging people nestled in the heart of an urban setting and in an area with a walkable index similar to mine, which is 95.

One example of retirement living in Saint Louis that is immersed in the community is Pacific Place in Webster Groves. It is located in the Old Orchard shopping district. Just steps from its door residents have options for dining, entertainment, banking and shopping. Cultural experiences can be had at Webster University, which is just next door. Pacific Place has become a model for other retirement communities around the world.

Such stimulating environment as the community where Pacific Place is located or the downtown hub where I live is one of life’s designs that will extend quality of life and general sense of wellbeing. I believe that this philosophy of living immersed in society at large during the twilight years will also contribute to extending life itself. That is my goal.

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