A friend who is exactly my age (57) complained the other day that everyone is wondering when he’s going to retire.

“Maybe it’s because of the gray hair, but people keep asking if I’ve got ‘A Plan.’ ”

I said it was probably just a social tic. These are the questions people ask when they don’t know what else to say, like asking little kids what they want to be when they grow up

You could tell that my friend isn’t in the newspaper business. Here, people are much more likely to ask “What’s your Plan B” than “What’s your plan for retirement.”

For most of my career, during a long line of mergers and contractions, I’ve been painfully aware of the possibility that I could show up at the office one day to be greeted by a stranger with a clipboard who tells me to wait with the group in the cafeteria until someone can escort me to clean out my desk.

The idea of picking a date, making a little speech over a sheet cake in the newsroom and then slipping away seems like a fantasy.

But people do it. I’ve seen it.

In fact, I’ve never seen as many as I have over the last year or so, as a parade of veteran copy editors said goodbye. The names John Willhoite, Betsy Gattis, Bob Dixon, Gary Randall, Ken Jones, Hal Madsen and Tim Brewster may not mean much to most readers, but if you picked up a paper in the last 40 years or so, you would have seen their work, read the headlines they wrote, scanned the pages they designed. And you would have been spared the egregious errors they managed to pull out of the copy before it hit the presses.

I never asked them if they had “a plan.” Everyone was too busy.

If the end isn’t in sight for me, it’s not that far off. Assuming I don’t get greeted by that stranger with a clipboard,  one of these days in the next 10 years will be my last. And then what?

There’s the obvious question of how you live without a paycheck, but there are other gaps in my imagination. Like, what would I do all day?

I have a brother-in-law from France, and I once heard him complain that “Americans are lazy. All they do is work.”

He means that in Europe people work to survive, but they have other interests that are the focus of their lives. For him, they include hunting, fishing, gardening, foraging in the forests and eating four-hour lunches on Sunday.

Here, work is more than what we do – it’s who we are. We spend decades learning a trade, getting a job and keeping it, and then what? It’s not just financial need that keeps people working long after they are eligible for Social Security and Medicare.

I don’t have any hobbies, really. I don’t play golf, I don’t sail, I don’t ski, unless you count shuffling around on cross-country skis a few times each winter as skiing. It’s hard to say that there is something calling me and that work is getting in the way.

My father was a college professor who had two jobs when I was growing up, one full-time and the other half-time. When he finally retired he continued researching and writing for the rest of his life.

When people asked him if he missed anything about work, he used the old professor joke, “I miss my vacations.” Is free time to do whatever you want as precious when you don’t have as many obligations the rest of the year?

Maine is the oldest state in the country. Every year, more Maine people have their 65th birthday than graduate from high school.

I can’t be the only person in their late 50s wondering about what comes next.

Before people start asking, I better get “a plan.”

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