Hey hey, my my. Today's post is about how it's better to burn out than it is to rust. The rusty vessels we shall discuss today are Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Pope John Paul II. Full disclosure: I'm not a Roman Catholic, I'm not a lawyer or jurist, and I'm not an old person, although I aspire to live long enough to become one, since it beats the alternative.
Yesterday, the Pope was readmitted to the hospital with breathing problems. He's 84 years old and in frail health. Chief Justice Rehnquist is suffering from thyroid cancer, for which I offer my sympathies and hopes for a successful recovery, since I myself had a benign thyroid tumor removed in 1983. However, it should be noted that the Chief Justice is 80 years old.
What do these two men have in common, other than holding positions to which they were appointed for life? It seems to me that they both believe that they are indispensable, which is of course not true. All of us are replaceable, and indeed, eventually we all will be replaced in the jobs that we hold, whether through retirement or through a more final exit. Unless you work in a company which you founded, someone else must have held your job before you came along, and someone else will hold it after you are gone. There have been many Supreme Court Justices over the centuries and even more Popes, primarily because the Papacy is a much older institution.
It seems clear that neither of these men is willing to go quietly into retirement. They will both probably "die with their boots on." The question arises whether these octogenarians really are still in touch with the world which is so affected by their decisions and pronouncements, and whether it might be better for them to move aside so that younger, healthier, more vital leaders might emerge.
They are not the only ones who don't want to retire even when they have reached the normal age of retirement. One of my co-workers passed away unexpectedly a few weeks ago and I heard that he was in his early 80s. He worked right up until his dying day. I've sworn that I won't do that. I don't know if I'll retire early, but I guarantee you that I won't be working beyond age 67, which is when I'm (theoretically) eligible for Social Security.