At 56, I Decide It’s Time to Retire

Paris Pont Neuf Photograph

Thoughts of Paris keep me going…

Pat and I finally went to Lake Balaton this weekend. You can’t live in Hungary and not vacation at the holiest of Hungarian vacation destinations. When our friends ask, “Have you been to Balaton yet?” “Have you seen The Balaton?” We’ll be able to respond, “Yes. Oh my gosh, it was lovely.
And it was.

We arrived late, muddled around trying to get into our B&B, and eventually checked in and set off for dinner. By the time we arrived back, it was 10 PM. A few work issues had started to percolate that morning. As we left Budapest, I thought everything would settle down.

Boy, was I mistaken. The fire had tamped down, but then the winds picked up and changed direction. By the time I read my mail, the entire forest was ablaze.

I managed to crawl into bed around midnight, slept fitfully for a few hours, and got up at 4:30 knowing the work ahead of me. Saturday at 3PM we would meet to review the crisis and our response. I was in charge of pulling together an assessment. I told my American colleagues to send me their input before they went to bed. While they slept, I would turn it into a story.

Before dawn, I fumbled around our room and tried to get logged into my email. The wifi was down – of course it was. An hour later, with nothing working, I mentally ticked through my options.

  • Retire today
  • Catch the train to Budapest
  • Take a taxi to Budapest
  • Run away to a place where I will never be found

Given I was in rural Hungary, I had a huge head start on that last one.

Then, the most obvious solution struck me. Go check into one of the conference center hotels we had passed last night by the lake. By 6AM, I was settled into a room, and everything was working. Relief.

Pat knows the drill. When I left, he opened his eyes a sliver,

Do what you need to do, Julie.

OK. Assume I’ll be back here at 5 tonight. But don’t worry if I’m not.

When I returned to our B&B promptly at 5, I was finished working for the weekend. Monday, the firestorm erupted yet again.

For many of you this sounds familiar, right?

Since the weekend, I can’t stop thinking – at what point is the paycheck no longer worth the cost? Part of my salary is the expectation that when the forest goes up in flames, I will be the first fire fighter on the scene. And as long as I take the money, I accept all the strings attached.

I can handle strings, but increasingly, the strings have grown into ropes; thick and weighty – the kind which cut your hands to shreds and rip your heart out.

It all boils down to money. Let’s face it, almost every decision generally does. I can step aside, but will we be happy with a life which fits into a much different pay scale? Will the constraints be just as bad as those I live with today? Even though I feel every second of my age, I am a relatively retirement young 56.

Pat and I are fortunate, this assignment forced our hand. All our possessions are stuffed into a unit smaller than our former garage. Our last child graduated college this spring. Although my pension is not the super sized version of yesteryear, it is not zero. And I can tap my savings at a nominal withdraw rate to provide a bit more income.

If I walk away tomorrow, we will not starve. But life is about more than “not starving”, isn’t it?

One of the blessings of living in Central Europe has been the realization that small lives can be rich. While money does buy elements of happiness, I no longer need buckets of money to stuff my over sized house with things I rarely use and can seldom find. We have learned the immeasurable pleasure of a cake and coffee with friends or two tickets to see the Vienna Philharmonic at the Reduta Hall in Bratislava, Slovakia.

When I got to the hotel Saturday morning, I breathed a sigh of relief. Everything worked. I received all the data I needed, and I was back in business. With the crisis under control, I checked my personal email and noticed a note with the subject line, “Congratulations Julie, you have been accepted into our summer writing program in Paris.”

For about thirty seconds I sat completely still with my eyes closed. It was all I needed to pull myself together and muddle through an exceptionally crummy day.

When I applied to the program, I began searching for affordable apartments. In the city center, that translates to about 300 square feet. I will sleep in a closet as long as the door opens onto a Parisian street. In our French life, I will walk next door for a freshly baked baguette, order a wedge of Roquefort cheese wrapped in paper, and return home with a bottle of local wine to write a story while Pat edits pictures.

Heaven fits in 300 square feet.

All day Saturday, thoughts of that email kept me going. For the next eight months, that email will be the light I run towards. I still haven’t figured out the details of how we will live the next phase of our lives. At least now, I can see exactly when it starts and where.



Categories: How To

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11 replies

  1. Nice post mom!!! Paris is calling…I guess I’ll have to plan a visit 🙂

  2. congratulations!!! i hope your 300 square foot apartment has enough floor space for ryan and i to crash 🙂

  3. This was one of my favorites.

  4. Hi Julie! Congrats! I’m totally curious… if you don’t mind my asking, what’s the writing program?

    • Hey Meghan… It’s a month long creative non-fiction program… offered by Rolf Potts (a “travel writer”)… He teaches it annually. Of course, we’re staying for 3 months!…

      Hope life in the US is treating you well….

  5. Congrats! I’m sure you are off on a great new life that you will love.

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