Prior to Concorde’s retirement from service in 2003, the aircraft was considered first class among its competitors. Flying at an average speed of Mach 2.02, Concorde could cross the Atlantic Ocean in a mere 3 1/2 hours. In The World’s Greatest Airliner (2003), a former Concorde captain described her this way:
The only thing that tells you that you’re moving is that occasionally when you’re flying over the subsonic aeroplanes you can see all these 747s 20,000 feet below you almost appearing to go backwards, I mean you are going 800 miles an hour or thereabouts faster than they are. The aeroplane was an absolute delight to fly, it handled beautifully. And remember we are talking about an aeroplane that was being designed in the late 1950s – mid 1960s. I think it’s absolutely amazing and here we are, now in the 21st century, and it remains unique.
Throughout the years, Concorde passengers have included many heads of state. Even Queen Elizabeth II and Pope John Paul II enjoyed her supersonic ways. By now, you may have surmised that her mission wasn’t to transport the masses. That was true. For a trip on Concorde was out of their league. In the late 1990s, one passenger recalls paying $11,000 for a round-trip ticket between Paris and New York and quipped that it was worth every penny. Traveling on Concorde was first class—all the way!
For most, first class has a certain ring to it. After all, who among us would not prefer the comfort and luxury of first class as opposed to the ordinariness of life? In my half century of earthly living, I admit that while I’ve never been a formal member of a country club or some other swanky pay-as-you-go venue, I have frequented them on occasion— as an invited guest. Frankly, it’s not a bad way to go. But alas, life events have rendered that my only executive membership is the one I hold at Costco. At $110 per year, it is a bargain in comparison to that final Concorde airfare. For me, the bottom line is this: When boarding an airplane, staying at a hotel, or frequenting an eatery, economy (not first) class is my lot.
I mention all of these things because in recent days, financial advisers from the firm Legg Mason revealed that individuals will have forfeited their right to retire unless they have accumulated the tidy amount of $2.5 million in their coffers. Their study notes that’s about $2.2 million more than the average balance most investors have in their retirement kitty. As I thought about this, my first reaction was that I was doomed—to work forever. As I continued thinking about this, I surmised that even if I decided to substantially ramp up my saving rate, with present interest rates set at Federal Reserve-determined rates of 0.0000000001%, I wouldn’t reach that $2.5 million plateau for about 500 years. But at that very moment, a glimmer of hope appeared in the darkness. For this past week, Google announced that it has invested in a firm that will offer humans the possibility that they might one day live to that ripe old age. In paraphrasing Andy Warhol, one Google Ventures executive exclaimed that “In the future, we’ll all be Methuselah.”
But I wonder. Even if it were possible, what would a first-class retirement entail? While it is true that saving is a virtue and that we should financially provide for likely future events (e.g., healthcare, bills, etc.), does living our lives mean that we should live every hour of our lives for an outcome such as retirement that might never come to be? For indeed, how many of us have personally seen even the best laid retirement plans evaporate in a single moment as a result of illness or death?
Truly, it begs the question: What is the purpose of our lives? Is it to work incessantly and save relentlessly? Or is it to be—with our spouses, children, families, and friends—in the here and now? And even more importantly, to begin laying a foundation and future for our eternity that will hopefully be lived with God. The Wisdom of Solomon (2:1) reminds us that “Short and sorrowful is our life, and there is no remedy when a life comes to its end, and no one has been known to return from Hades.” Likewise, Fr. Solanus Casey has told us that “the thing the world calls life is so short after all, and the hereafter so eternal, that nothing here ought to really disturb us.”
In light of all this, shouldn’t we begin our first-class future—today?