Last Word: Lewisburg-on-Avon

Mulling over 'the Murphy option' and other retirement scenarios

By Matthew Stevenson ’76

Maybe because I am as loathe to confront mortality as I was to digest Heidegger and Kierkegaard in Professor Michael Payne’s freshman English class (if only they had played bass in the great existentialist rock band), I tend to deflect retirement scenarios with the same jokes that I once used to stay away from advanced chemistry and physics.

Sometimes, when I am asked about “our plans,” I talk about “retiring to Shakespeare,” and the idea that I would love to devote my sunset years to discovering the plays and the Elizabethan language that were lost to my sophomore imagination.

In these daydreams, my wife and I live opposite London’s Globe Theatre, and each afternoon I amble across the mews for a forced feeding from the bard. Over tea I quote Hamlet (“Age, with his stealing steps/Hath clawed me in his clutch”) and pretend I am not Lear (“Sir, I am too old to learn”).

Not long ago at my 40th Reunion, I discovered — especially if the music is loud, as it was often — that if you tell someone you’re planning “to move to Shakespeare,” they assume you’re talking about a gated community in Scottsdale.

During Reunion Weekend I heard other options put on the table. As I was driving around Lewisburg with my classmate and friend Judy Ellicott Rader ’76, she said: “Why don’t we all move back here for retirement?” Lewisburg never looks better than on a June weekend, when the Susquehanna has the idyllic qualities of Huck Finn’s Mississippi and the campus (drained of Frisbees) has aspects of Utopia (and not those Lilliputian planned communities that so amused Professor of English John Tilton ’52 in his class on satire).

I would love being near a college toward the end of my life, when I could appreciate (maybe) the complex constructions of William Faulkner or contribute something concrete to a Tom Travis seminar on American foreign policy. Besides, Lewisburg now has BILL (the Bucknell Institute for Lifelong Learning), a Jan Plan for all ages. (See more about BILL in "A Vibrant Learning Community.")

Then I remember winters in the Susquehanna Valley (all that freezing rain that filled up my supposedly waterproof hiking boots), and I lean toward what my wife and I call “the Murphy option.”

We have named it in honor of Professor John Murphy and his wife, Danielle, who live part of every year in Chamonix, the French ski resort (where she has family), and the rest in Lewisburg (where he taught in Bucknell’s English department).

As we live in nearby Geneva, Switzerland, we see them often, and have come to admire their approach to getting older, which is to balance the old world and the new. I know Shakespeare (“dreams are toys”) would approve. In their divided world, they live — handsomely, we think — with a French sensibility in Lewisburg, and with American verve in France. Who knew that a Bucknell retirement could come with a continental plan?

Matthew Stevenson '76 is the author of many books including An April Across America and, most recently, Reading the Rails.

Bucknell Magazine — Fall 2017


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She discusses who wins and loses in free trade, and what to do about it.

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