Prompt Me! “Life Happens” from Ruth Conn

Ruth Conn:  Lake Irene, of course

I am floating on Lake Irene, about 15 feet out from the shore in front of my in-law’s lake home. It is July 4th weekend, 2004.  Inside the house, my three kids are lounging—one is playing video games, one sleeps in, the third is wandering aimlessly about, not wanting to watch CNN, which is constantly playing on the TV, yet not wanting to look available for a task or job. I can hear voices drifting out of the sliding patio doors that span the length of the upper deck. But it is warm, the sun not quite beating down, but enveloping me as only the summer sun in Minnesota can do.

I had just turned 50 a couple months earlier. It was a landmark—don’t let anyone tell you that it is an inconsequential birthday—yet I didn’t anticipate anything changing in my life. I was running a small business, doing some sales and marketing consulting, leading a charmed yet challenging life. Making a living wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be when I graduated from college, but it wasn’t so bad.

As I lay on the inner tube, gazing at the sky above, the tree lined shore, the bobbing motion lulling me, I think, “I could retire here.”

I picture driving into Alex, working with the theater group—not acting, although I could try my hand at that—but as a volunteer something or other. I think of my mother who had volunteered at the historical museum in my hometown of Hardin, Montana, and I figure I could do the same at the Runestone Museum. There’s a plethora of golf courses—golfing all day would be no problem.

It is a vibrant little community, as small town communities go. The influx of summer people, of which I am currently a part, balloons the population during the lake season, but the winters are quiet and slow. There’s a ski area about 30 minutes away so I could continue to teach.

It dawns on me that this is one of the first times I have ever considered retirement, and what that would really mean. I’ve never slowed down at work long enough to think there might be life after work. Every year I would squirrel away some SEP IRA money, never thinking I might actually use it.

But like the rest of my life, I realize that if I want this thing called “retirement” to happen, I would have to think about what that might mean personally and financially. Would volunteering be “enough”? What about the friends and community I have in Minneapolis? Would I want to live here at the lake year ‘round, when the winters are longer, darker and colder than even 100 miles south? And just how much money does a person need to live on in retirement—a little, or a lot?

As I bob in the water, I think I have the luxury of time. I’m not ready to retire. I am totally immersed in the water, in my work and my current life.

But the seed is planted. I have a vision of what life might be like in 15 years. It is time to make a plan, work the plan, be the plan. Because life happens.

Lake Irene

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