Knowing when to say when | Eastern North Carolina Now

Lib Campbell: Above
    Diane Feinstein was ninety years old at the time of her death, which was neither shocking nor unexpected. In this last chapter of her life, her increasing frailties were on display for all to see. Her diminishing capacities evoked a little sadness that she chose to stay in her senate seat until she simply expired.

    When Feinstein was elected in 1992, she blazed a trail for women's leadership. She chaired important committees, like the Judiciary committee, and was a capable and competent leader. She served for thirty-one years. In the last few, I felt embarrassed for her. Aging is hard to hide.

    If Feinstein's death isn't clarion call enough, the cover of the October 2nd New Yorker gives pause to the realization that many of our elected leaders are just plain old. Cartoonist Barry Blitt draws "The Donald," Mitch, Nancy and Joe racing with their walkers and tennis shoes. Blitt calls his cover cartoon "The Race for Office." Age comes with wisdom, so I've heard, yet with some people, it comes with resolve to stay on the stage even when the music is winding down.


    Donald Trump and I are the same age. Our birth year is the only thing we have in common. Joe Biden is 80. Nancy Pelosi, who scurries around congress in stilettos, is 83. She just announced that she will run for another term in the House of Representatives. Mitch McConnell is 81. His episodes of "freezing" on camera may be result of a fall he had. Such episodes are not nothing. It feels like we are watching his decline on the evening news. Ruth Bader Ginsburg chose not to retire when a Democrat could appoint someone to her seat. Instead, when she died at age 87, conservative Republican Amy Coney Barrett replaced her.

    Part of the geriatric dilemma of our leadership could be corrected by term limits. Lifetime appointments need to be addressed in all professions. Term limits accomplish several things. The longer people stay in office the more power they accrue, which often turns to a self-serving enterprise in the body politic. Term limits are not agism, but they would help turn over leadership that evolves into the ole power grab.

    Mitt Romney set a good example when he announced, at age 76, he would not run for re-election in 2024. In doing so, Romney opens the door to the rest of his life. He will find a worthwhile endeavor, like Al Gore and Jimmy Carter did.


    Certainly, people show age differently. But when the showing of age becomes a distraction to doing the job well, it is time to go. Why do people hang on? Maybe they feel like they will disappear and become irrelevant. Maybe they have been so work-focused, they have very little life outside the workplace. The limelight feeds many an ego; it's hard not to be on center stage.

    Maybe people don't have trusted, truth-telling advisors who can whisper a time-to-go word even as the signs of diminished performance are glaring. Maybe the ego-centric self thinks nobody else is qualified or talented enough to do the job like I do.

    The last Christmas television show I ever saw Perry Como do, I remember thinking, why on earth would he humiliate himself singing, when it was so obvious that his singing voice was gone. I was embarrassed for him.

    In times when I served in leadership positions, I always thought a five-year term was enough for anybody. Two years to get up to speed. One year to lead with strength. Two years to identify and mentor a replacement. I think people fear being replaced. Handing the reins over is a necessary way of staying on the growing edge. We get to cheer the next leaders and watch all they do on any foundation we might think we laid.

    Bob Schieffer told a story about Walter Cronkite's retirement at age 65. Everybody remembers Cronkite as America's newsman, and few wanted him to go. Schieffer questioned Cronkite's decision saying, "Your ratings are higher than ABC and NBC put together." Schieffer recalls Cronkite's response, "I want to leave while people still welcome me into their homes." He lived the next 27 years of his life as a wise elder, a mentor and exemplar of what it means to know when to say when.

    I am a retirement expert; I have retired twice. What I know now is that stamina, mobility, and balance impact many people my age. And while I occasionally get invited to participate in worship, I know that accommodations are made for my own decreased physicality.


    When people say that old age is not for sissies, they are spot on. Finding joy in new endeavors and satisfaction in the body of work we have left behind, is how life works. Kahlil Gibran speaks truth to an aging America, "the moving finger writes, and having writ moves on." That's just the way it is. We are called to live each day boldly with hope that our life's work is enough.

    Lib Campbell is a retired Methodist pastor, retreat leader and hosts the website: She welcomes comments at
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