Recently, I saw an American movie in which the main character says there are three words beginning with “R” that kill older people slowly. They are retirement, regret and revenge. “Reward,” too, should be included in this category.
“Retirement” can be bliss for some people, and yet it is a curse for others. After retirement, some people may enjoy a restful life, but others get bored. Indeed, if you have nothing to do all day long, you will find your life boring and dreary. If you no longer go to work, you will also feel alone and lonely, and will realize the value of companionship. That is why, after retirement, you should find something to do or get used to being alone. Otherwise, boredom and loneliness will kill you slowly.
“Regret” is another factor that will reduce your life expectancy. As you grow old, you live on memories. The problem is that you recollect past memories with regret and remorse, whereas you forget all the fond memories. Clicking your tongue, you frequently mutter, “I should’ve done it,” or “I shouldn’t have done that.” If you cling to the past, not moving on to the future, you will end up dying soon because living in regret will seriously damage your health both physically and spiritually.
“Revenge,” too, will shorten your life. If you are spiteful and vengeful, your mind will never be serene or peaceful. Even after you get your revenge, you will be neither happy nor relieved -- partly because avenging yourself means hurting other people and partly because revenge invites retribution and you should prepare for retaliation. Psychologists maintain that if you are preoccupied with a personal vendetta, you will never be able to overcome hatred and stress, which are fatal to your mental health.
Finally, the idea of a “reward” is also problematic. Expecting to be rewarded for your good deeds will harm your mental health because you are likely to be disappointed. For example, you should not expect rewards from your children for your lifetime of dedication to them. Rather, you should think of it as your duty, because your children are not likely to return the favors they have received from you. You should not expect anything from your former colleagues or friends either. People will forget you as soon as you retire and are no longer in power or influence. They may not remember all the sweet things you have done for them. Yet, do not be disappointed in them. Just forgive and forget. If not, you will not be able to enjoy what remains of your otherwise peaceful life because the bitter anger of a betrayed person will consume you.
On the other hand, there are words that will enrich your latter years. Of all these words, “respect” comes first. Instead of trying to edify young people, you should respect them. Do not be arrogant, pretentious or condescending in front of the younger generation. “Refrain” from verbosity and from frequently saying, “When I was your age …” You should “realize” that young people hate it when you say that or talk too much. Always “remember” the maxim “When aged, open your purse, not your mouth.” Then young people will respect you too.
Then comes “responsibility.” Although retired, you are still responsible for many things such as your family, society and country. Of course, you are no longer responsible for your grown-up children, yet you still have moral obligations to take care of them if necessary. If your society or country is in harm’s way or takes the wrong direction, you are also required to speak up, warning politicians of imminent danger. Despite your age, you can still be of help to others with your wisdom, insights and experience.
You should realize you are no longer young. Yet, it does not mean your battery is dead for good. You can “recharge” your battery and “rejuvenate” yourself spiritually. Despite your deteriorating body, your mind can still be “resilient.” Actually, you can be “reborn” as a new person, if you lead a successful second life after retirement. You should also be careful not to lose your integrity or your sense of decency. Try to “remain” a well-mannered, classy person, so people will remember you as such.
“Rejoice” and be grateful all the time. When you wake up in the morning, you should be thankful for being alive. You should also be grateful for having avoided any fatal accidents or crises despite having lived through social turbulence and political turmoil. In addition, you can “recall” and “review” your past life, not necessarily with regrets, and try to “redeem” any mistakes you have made in the past. Then, you can “repair” your squeaky friendships and “restore” your reputation. Surely, it will make the remainder of your life meaningful and worthwhile.
Think positively and act decently, and you will lead a happy life until you finally “rest” in peace.
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University. -- Ed.