The Dynamics of Parting
Three months have passed since I nailed down the retirement date. They have blown by. The days run away like wild horses over the hills, as Charles Bukowski had it. People ask if I am excited. "Excitement" is a word that did not come to mind until others brought it up. I simply look forward to a time when "That burden of my own unnatural self, / The heavy weight of many a weary day / Not mine, and such as were not made for me" is shaken off. Maybe this is a quibble. Without question as the day approaches I grow more eager for it to arrive.
It is a commonplace to speak of retirement as a new chapter. Perhaps there is something to this, but here too my inclination is to be somewhat contrarian. I expect to devote myself to the pursuits and interests that have animated my adult life. It would be nice to think that I might go at it as Mircea Eliade did while writing his novel Huliganii (Hooligans), in a white heat of creativity working from 2:00 to 8:00 in the afternoons and again at night from 11:00 P.M. to 3:00 or 4:00 A.M. This seems scarcely conceivable, even for a young man in his twenties, as Eliade was. We will see how it plays out.
My colleagues at the office wanted to take me out for a celebratory dinner. They would have been delighted to treat me to hip and happening cuisine at some fashionable den of Portland foodie culture if I so chose. But that is not my style. I enjoy dining out with a friend or small group in a restaurant where I feel comfortable, a quiet place, not too crowded, possessed of a certain je ne sais quoi quality, and not too fashionably hip, trendy, or infested by the fooderati. The food must be tasty, of course, but it need not be state of the art, cutting edge, the culinary equivalent of a Picasso. It is the company and conversation that matter. For this occasion the fitting place could only be India Oven, four blocks from my apartment, where I dine two or three times a month, often alone with the book of the day, sometimes chatting with the owner when he has a free moment, savoring at my leisure a veggie somosa, naan, chicken korma or chicken saag or lamb biryani, and an IPA.
Sandy, my former supervisor, joined us that evening at my invitation. She hired me and we worked together until her retirement in May. The occasion would not have been right without her. She came bearing a retirement gift, a Liberated cabernet sauvignon. Fitting, n'est-ce pas? She remarked with a smile that she heard I have been more relaxed since she left. I believe the technical term for this would be the post hoc fallacy — post hoc ergo propter hoc. I became more relaxed after she left, therefore I became more relaxed because she left. I assured her that while I am indeed more relaxed these days, it is a consequence of my decision to pull the plug on gainful employment and has nothing to do with her departure.
Among other things I sleep a bit better than I have in, well, for about as long as I can remember. Each evening I set the alarm for five as I have for years. Typically nights pass in fitful and intermittent dozing that leaves me lying awake for some time until at last I turn off the alarm a few minutes before it is set to erupt and rise to begin the day. Last week the alarm woke me four days out of five after nights with moments of deep sleep and vivid dream that I thought might be lost to me.
What comes next? No doubt I will continue to endure spells of anxiousness and melancholy, uncertainty and self-doubt, fits of despair, and bouts of darkness that are as much part of me as, well, anything. I anticipate they will be a less frequent presence than they have been during certain seasons, at least for a time, until I live too long and the money runs out or my health goes altogether south and I become a burden on someone. I can hope that I will respond to trials with a measure of equanimity and grace, but one never knows about that until the time comes.
The curriculum for the Fall term is set. The focus will be a return to the Greeks as I reread The Iliad, Heraclitus and Parmenides among the Presocratics, a play or two, some Plato, and take another crack at Aristotle, probably the Ethics. Along with this will come continuation of the recently renewed study of French. On the writing front I have a few poems in progress that I hope may come to something. Another projects entails reviewing the files of poems and fragments that never quite made it to see if anything can be salvaged or serve as kindling for something new. Then there is the tedious admin work that goes with submitting poems for publication. I have never gone at that as diligently as must be done if one hopes for much success at it. Finally I have ambition to pen more substantive essays on various topics than I have managed heretofore. We will see how it all pans out.
The workplace dynamic is complicated. I fell into a position for which I am in many respects ill-suited at a time in life when the best course seemed to be to see it through to this end. I work conscientiously and know that I make a contribution. People tell me I do a good job. There have been rewarding moments and cherished relationships. Nonetheless the work is often difficult for me in ways that many people may not understand. Sometimes things get to me and I do not comport myself as I would wish. I am not fond of myself when that happens.
The dynamics of parting took me by surprise. The first inkling came in July at the monthly All Center meeting when Andrea, who heads up our group, announced my impending retirement. Such announcements are customarily followed by polite applause. That morning the applause was preceded by a palpable collective groan. I know it was not my imagination because a colleague whose office is down the hall mentioned it afterward.
I once held the illusion that I move through life largely under most radar. It turns out that about this too I was mistaken. After the All Center announcement I received many expressions of kindness and caring that led me to blink back tears. It is as if when looking at me they see the person I would like to be, while I often see how I fall short.
If I have a small regret about retirement, and it is small, it is that I am leaving the other three members of my immediate work group. They are wonderful people personally and professionally, and we work together as well as any group I have ever been associated with. Beyond that we genuinely like and care for one another. This is no small thing.
The retirement ritual, the announcement, the farewell/celebration drop-in with coffee and pastries, the dinner, the cards and little gifts and various parting words and gestures, is as much for those who remain behind as for the one who is leaving. In "Tintern Abbey" Wordsworth speaks of "that best portion of a good man's life, / His little, nameless, unremembered, acts / Of kindness and of love." The ritual makes for a time when we might voice feelings that go unsaid and remember kindnesses that may pass unremarked in the ordinary course of daily affairs. It is all more emotional than I anticipated.