A few years ago, a small piece of card dropped through my letterbox. I still have it – I’m holding it right now. This is what it says, misspelling and grammar uncorrected:
“Dear Sir Madam,
Hi, my name is Herbert i live at XX Sheltered Housing Im looking for space for my 4ft x 2ft trailer for my dissablled scooter if you can help please call me on XX mobile if you can help me thank you.”
Something about this note pulled at my heartstrings as I imagined an old man going from house to house delivering his cards and waiting patiently for a call that never came.
I have plenty of space on my driveway and now that I knew somebody else needed it, I felt guilty about all the privilege and just being in the right places at the right times and sheer amazing good fortune that have resulted in me sitting here – warm and comfortable and safe, with everything I need around me.
So I called.
Herbert parked a scruffy trailer containing his scooter draped in a flimsy tarpaulin on my driveway and occasionally neighbours would comment about the ugliness and ask “wouldn’t you be glad to see that gone?” Secretly, I agreed.
He would turn up at the house from time to time with a box of chocolates or a little pot plant as a thank you and we would chat for a few minutes on the doorstep. After a year or so he was admitted to hospital and stayed there. He would never come out.
He died this week. His family are taking away his scooter as I write. I have never met them before but they told me he mentioned me often and was so grateful for my “generosity”. I feel like a fraud. I wasn’t generous at all – he was just using something I didn’t need. Isn’t that what communities should do?
I don’t know why I’m writing this since it doesn’t fit with my theme of financial independence and early retirement. Except that lately I have been thinking about how to find fulfilment in life when you don’t find it in a job. And if I look past the guilt of privilege I can take a shred of fulfilment in the fact that a small kindness meant a lot to another person.
I feel sad today. Sad for Herbert and the ending of a life I knew almost nothing about. Sad that I didn’t make the time to visit him in hospital. Sad that I don’t live close to my ageing parents. Sad that we live in a world where some people have so much and some people have so little.
In case you haven’t noticed, I’m feeling a little low. I deliberately haven’t posted here for a couple of weeks because I’ve been drowning in self pity and I knew that anything I had to say would be completely self-indulgent and downright miserable, to be frank.
And perhaps, those people who haven’t wandered off due to lack of activity on this blog, will now disappear to read something happier and lighter.
But thinking about Herbert today, witnessing the grief of his family and contemplating the inevitable truth that faces us all – it forces some perspective. We can be quite flippant about the facts of life. We throw around phrases all the time – “Life is short!”, “Live for today!”, “You can’t take it with you!”. But how often do we stop and think – and I mean really think deeply – about this stuff?
That’s where my head is today. If I knew this was my last day on earth, what would I do?
A day is nothing is it? It passes in the blink of an eye. But a year or even a season is an expanse of time. What if I knew this was my last Autumn? Or what if I knew I had another 50 Autumns – would that change the decisions I need to make now?
On the brink of early retirement, I am on the cusp of a major life change; it’s not something to take lightly. Or it’s not something I am capable of taking lightly. I am a thinker, an analyst, dependable, stable. I have a family to provide for and their futures to take into consideration as well as my own. This was never going to be a quick nor an easy decision.
Drunk on FIRE
I was relatively late to the FIRE party compared to some of the blogs I read. When I discovered that there was a way to escape early from the corporate shackles, I was overjoyed. For a while, I would describe myself as almost drunk on this realisation. I threw myself into it with giddy abandon and started counting down the days.
I thought that as soon as I reached that magic number, I would quit my job and never look back.
What I never imagined was how difficult it would become once the target is near, to decide when to pull the plug. Because as much as we use the maths of the 4% rule or compounding to determine a number, there are no set rules, no strict guidelines for what we will find acceptable as a standard of living and therefore what that number needs to be.
My “enough” is not the same as your “enough” or even as my own original “enough”. I often find myself tweaking what “enough” includes to suit the frame of mind I’m in and that makes the whole concept a bit grey and woolly.
When I have a bad day at work, I think to myself, well, if I was retired I would never need another holiday so I can scrap that whole line from my budget.
But on a different day when everything is fine and I’m remembering the happy times we’ve had at this place or that one, I think to myself wouldn’t it be great to feel that excitement again of driving to the airport, the boys happy and carefree, us throwing out our family catchphrases that we say every time – “This time next week Mum, we’ll still be there”. 😄
And it’s not just the big things. At the other end of the spending scale I say to the boys, “When I’m retired we won’t be having takeaway like this.” Pizza tends to be a fallback when I’m really busy and don’t have the energy to cook (or more truthfully, don’t have the energy to resist their pleading).
But really, can I imagine a future where I have to think about every single pizza?
I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about today and it’s turned into a ramble from the big questions of life and death to the realities of daily life – aka what are we having for dinner?
So here’s what it boils down to.
If I knew this was my last day on earth I would be doing exactly what I’m doing now – quietly reflecting at home, feeling happy and sad, thoughts meandering from happy family times to what shall I have for my last dinner.
If I knew this was my last Autumn I would quit my job instantly and get outside into these cold, crisp, blue sky days, take the dog for long walks and order pizza for dinner whenever the boys wanted it.
If I knew I had 50 more Autumns I would make sure there was room to afford some treats for us all and they weren’t spent worrying about every last penny.
Herbert didn’t know that when he went into hospital he would never come out. I don’t know if I have one more Autumn or 50 more Autumns. It is likely to be something in between. So for now, no rash decisions – I’m taking things one day at a time.