Monday, January 14, 2019

Zeroing in on one week from today

My birthday is one week from today. After about 20, I’ve probably dreaded each “zero birthday” more than the one before. It’s not that I don’t want to get older, exactly: There’s only one way to do that. However, I wouldn’t mind the process taking a bit longer.

Our perceptions of when, precisely, old age begins have changed as human lifespan has increased—but not as quickly, probably. During the period I was born, a person could be expected to live until their late 60s, maybe early 70s. However, projected life expectancy isn’t absolute, and improvements in healthcare and medicine have increased the lifespan beyond what was projected at people’s birth—in developed countries, especially, but worldwide, too.

As people began living longer and healthier lives, our perception of when “old age” begins have shifted, too, though slowly. I think that shift needs to pick up the pace.

One of the life events when one reaches their 60s is retirement. For years, the retirement age in the USA was 65 —until they started raising it. The USA started to raise the age for receiving full Social Security benefits by 2 months per year beginning with those born in 1938—but it stalled at 66 for those born between 1943 and 1954. Then, the rise resumed.

I qualify for Social Security, assuming it still exists, when I reach 66 years 10 months, and this presents a problem. Due to a treaty between the USA and New Zealand, my Social Security benefit will be paid to the New Zealand Government (the two counties have similar agreements with other countries). The problem is that I qualify for NZ Superannuation at age 65, and NZ requires me to apply for Social Security when I apply for New Zealand Superannuation. However, if I apply for US Social Security at 65, it’ll be reduced benefits. Even so, at the moment I don’t plan on retiring that early, anyway, but the point is the two systems don’t match up.

Actually, the bigger problem, if it is one, is that I can’t imagine being retired. Nothing in my life has prepared me for it, since my parents never achieved it. But I also don’t feel old enough to be nearing retirement age—though I also have no idea what it would mean to feel old enough.

Which is why I’m dreading this upcoming “zero age” more than any of the others I’ve been though: I have neither the frame of reference nor any feeling for what this upcoming age will be like. Sure, on my birthday itself it’ll be no different than the day before, but as the years pass, what happens? At all those earlier “zero age” birthdays I had some idea what to expect, and I knew that the following decade wouldn’t be all that much different than the one before it. Neither is true this time.

This isn’t the sort of thing I can be told about or learn about. It’s one of those rare things that must be intuited, and I’m not there yet. Still, time waits for no one, right? And one week from today, ready or not, I enter what’s for me totally uncharted territory.

Still, it beats the alternative.

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