Confessions of an Unreconstructed Grasshopper
When I was a young lad, my parents told me the familiar fable of the grasshopper and the ant. They told me to be like the ant and work for the future. Unfortunately, like most young folks, I didn’t heed the advice. I must confess I spent my life like the grasshopper, concentrating on the cares and whims of the moment with nary a thought for the future. Now that I am retired, I am feeling the effects. I am a grasshopper in the fall of my life and my grasshopper ways are coming back and biting me.
How did this happen? I guess it was because I followed some basic grasshopper philosophies—such as Grasshopper Philosophy #1: If you don’t enjoy your work, they can’t pay you enough.
I’m sure we all know people who are making good money at jobs they don’t like. A grasshopper would ask: what good does it do you to make a lot of money if you need to spend much of it on therapy? Which is more important, having time but little money or money but little time to enjoy it? I tried to find that point where I had, not a great deal of either, but enough of both.
After trying a couple of jobs, I finally found my niche making educational and documentary films in university and museum settings. It had its problems like any other job, but I woke up most mornings ready to attack the challenges of telling and showing people interesting and, I felt, important things.
It was a wonderful way to make a living, but working for non-profits doesn’t pay a great deal and I was never able to put much money away. Not very ant-like. I might still have done okay if I hadn’t also followed Grasshopper Philosophy number 2: It would be a pity to come to the end of your life and realize that you had not really lived.
So when I got interested in something I followed it up. I bought motorcycles and went on long trips. And especially, I acquired sailboats and spent time on the water. It’s not as if I was lavishing money on expensive yachts and yacht clubs. This was strictly low-budget sailing.
A well-known boat-builder and cruiser I once talked to told me that you should go off and do your cruising when you are young and healthy, then come back when you are older and get a job to pay for it. Sort of the “eat dessert first” approach. That sounds like a true grasshopper philosophy. I guess I did it without realizing it.
As long as I was working full-time these things were possible—if I didn’t worry too much about saving for the future. After all, there was always that next paycheck. But now that I am retired I find myself more constricted. Too much of my limited funds are devoted to paying off the pleasures of my earlier life.
But what if I hadn’t made it this far? Life is uncertain; at any time you could find yourself looking at Grasshopper Philosophy #2 when it is too late to do anything about it. We all know of people dying or being disabled before they reach retirement. It is possible to defer gratification too long.
Of course, that is grasshopper kind of talk. A true ant would keep bringing me back to my debts and my limited options. The ant would be right, of course, I am limited. I can afford little more than my grasshopper memories. I remember touring around the country on a motorcycle and being part of a brotherhood of outsiders. I remember the motorboat captain who warned us against the terrible conditions on the Bay, but we went out anyway and had the most glorious sail of the year. I remember standing on the end of a 20-foot bowsprit, turning in a long splice while a big sloop tacked up the Hudson.
I don’t have a motorcycle or sailboat any more, but I have a couple of kayaks and there is still lots of water I haven’t explored. There are still interesting people I haven’t met and places I haven’t seen. What’s up that creek? Is there really an eagle’s nest in that marsh? There’s so much to do and time is running out.
Out of my way ants, I’ve got lots of grasshoppering to do.