Oh … are you still here?

I have two weeks left before I close my office door, hand in my keys, turn over my identity badge, and head for home … or for whatever/wherever comes next.  Yesterday I spent the day trying to get some loose ends tied up while continuing to sort through all of the things in my office.  It started out as a lovely day.  I hadn’t been in my office for almost a week because I’ve been on the road doing some training.  Nice to greet some of my colleagues as they arrived yesterday morning (I tend to get in pretty early) and it does continue to be interesting to sort through things long forgotten.  How long has that box of tea been in my cupboard?  That little plug-in heater to rest my coffee mug on to keep the coffee hot seemed like such a good idea when I bought it; I don’t remember actually ever finding it very useful though.  Then there’s the fish-art that I took off my wall and left on my colleague Judith’s desk; just a few days ago she’d commented on how much she liked it.  Seems that I’ve inadvertently started a whole string of fish metaphors now.

Mid-morning I decided to go downstairs to the lobby and get a cup of coffee.  That’s when it started. Getting onto the elevator, a colleague from another branch greeted me with:  “Oh, are you still here?”  That sort of took me by surprise.  Before the day ended, though, I’d heard a few variations on the same theme:  “Oh, didn’t know you were still here?” and “Haven’t you left yet?”  Hold on here just a minute!  What are they trying to say?  Is this some kind of living obituary approach?

I’m sure – maybe – that the question/comment is just an expression of surprise.  They haven’t seen me around day-to-day for the last month since I’ve been on the road and they know that my retirement is pending.  I get it; they’re surprised when they bump into me.  But what about “are you still here?”   Do they think that question wouldn’t make me feel like a cross between a leper and a generic social outcast?  Suddenly, in the midst of this strange day, I remembered some words from Kahlil Gibran:  “I existed from all eternity and, behold, I am here; and I shall exist till the end of time, for my being has no end.”  Sure, I’ll admit that I read “The Prophet” when I was a youth;  reading and rereading his ideas about work,  about joy and sorrow, about teaching, and even about saying farewell – or as he puts it – going with the wind.  I read it and thought it oh so wise when I was 17.  Today, maybe not so much.  Yet still I did find myself thinking about transience and permanence today as I began to feel what it would be like to just “be gone”.  I also wonder if Sarah Palin read Gibran (assuming that she’s read anything); she might particularly want to read up on Laws … especially the part that tell us: “What shall I say of these save that they too stand in the sunlight, but with their backs to the sun?  They see only their shadows, and their shadows are their laws.”  Actually, I look forward to being able to say – about her – “are you still here?”

Okay – time to not talk about politics … although given that we just had an election in Canada yesterday and the US will have one in just a few more weeks that’s easier said than done.  So, back to that elevator chat.  I wasn’t prepared for this.  I thought that I’d be out of the building before they began forgetting me.   Although it may sound a little morbid, I’ve often thought about what my funeral would be like.  Would lots of people gather and say things about me that have more to do with what they wish I’d been than what I was?  How long after I’m gone will I be forgotten?  I guess this is something that most of us – in smaller or larger doses – think about.  Being forgotten.  Scary somehow.

Now I know I’ll be watching folks as they walk slowly by my office, looking in, looking around, checking out what’s still left.  As my wonderful sister Fran said:  “if you walk into your office and somebody’s measuring your desk chair … ” ; I’ll definitely be on the lookout for that folks! 

Makes me start thinking about why I was here – in this office, doing this work – at all.  Emile Zola, of J’accuse fame, said:  “If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I , an artist, I will answer you:  ‘I am here to live out loud’.”  Works for me.  After years of struggling to be quiet (okay, I know that I didn’t always succeed in that struggle!) is it finally time for me to take my place and “live out loud”?

I hope so.

So, I’m more prepared for this today.  Still, I’m not sure how to best respond to “are you still here?”  Just in case any colleagues are reading this, a simple “nice to see that you’re still here” might work a little better!

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8 responses to “Oh … are you still here?

  1. I can think of some sarcastic replies, but I don’t know if there’s a polite reply to that. Maybe an incredulous stare would be appropriate, or you could just smile.

  2. Actually, it is a moment of freedom. Freedom to shape your future and also responsibility for your own happiness. Your identity and excuses of too busy at work are gone. This is a good thing- it frees you to find out who you really are and to look at your life and ask what you have contributed and gained.If you aren’t completely happy with the answers- you now have the freedom to change them.I have a friend who says she will not spend one day of her retirement doing something that makes her unhappy. What a gift to give yourself! Of course, there is a price for everything and irrelevance in your job is an ending of one sort. But this is also a beginning like you haven’t experienced since you were very young and had the whole world of choice ahead of you.

  3. Once you make the big decision to retire, did you find the instinct to divest and destroy almost overwhelming as well as necessary? Could it be akin to the nesting instinct we feel just before giving birth when we clean and toss? Your colleague in the elevator wasn’t thinking…forgive him/her. Trust me, you won’t be forgotten.

  4. Sylvia Bereskin

    That’s a really interesting thought Esther. I have been madly purging “stuff” for the past weeks. Indeed my plan for this weekend – after kayaking and taking a drive through the countryside to see the glorious colours of the trees – is to “clean up” my home office and get it ready to spend more time in. Nesting of a new sort … this time for my own “birth”?

  5. Oh my gosh! I remember that “Are you still here?” part vividly now that you mention it! What really got me was that I committed to staying until they found my replacement and they spent 4 months dragging their feet looking for my replacement and then it took 2 more to transition him in there. So when they asked me, I wanted to say WELL I WOULD LOVE TO BE GONE, but you people are taking your sweet time!

    At first I did say something to like “well I don’t want to be”, then I toned it down to “well the new guy’s not here just yet,” and then finally I wound up saying “well you haven’t had my party yet, so I’m still here.” That one got a chuckle, and didn’t make me as mad to say out loud.

    But you bring up some not-so-fond memories!

  6. P.S. It’s interesting, your comments about Sarah Palin–I’m sick of her too–but find it more interesting that even the Canadians are sick of her!

  7. Sylvia Bereskin

    Here’s an excerpt from one of our major national newspapers. Margaret Wente says it well. Beyond what she has to say, as a woman and as a feminist and as a smart person I find it incredibly offensive that anyone thought that Sarah Palin was an acceptable choice for VP … unless, of course, VP stood for Vituperous Peabrain.

    MARGARET WENTE

    mwente@globeandmail.com

    E-mail Margaret Wente | Read Bio | Latest Columns
    October 18, 2008

    Who can blame Canadians for being bored numb by our election? We didn’t need it. The stakes were low. The main contenders were unappealing. And after it was over, nothing really changed.

    The real show is still two weeks away. My nails are bitten down to my elbow, because what happens in the U.S. will shape our fortunes far more profoundly than anything that happens in Canada. If the U.S. doesn’t prosper, we won’t, either. If America isn’t safe, neither are we. If Americans can’t figure out how to do more good than harm in places such as Afghanistan, then all our fine intentions and our soldiers’ blood won’t be worth a cup of spit. We desperately need an America that can find its way ahead again.

    America is weaker today than it’s been since the 1930s. Its moral authority in the world is shattered. Its proudly capitalist financial system has collapsed. The U.S. has created the first true crisis of globalization – and only the U.S. can fix it.

  8. I readyour firstparagraph, talking about, inter alia, “turning in [your] identity card”- and Iflinched, becasue Icould imagine how itmight feellike turning in one’s identity (if that’s what the card is called)…
    …and I did a check of my own reality…and inmy reality, in the organization I work for, there is nothing called an identity card…there are security badges and passcards, but nothing that represents itself as being anything more than that…..
    …..and it makes me wonder if there are other words and phrases used in your workplace that attempt to appropriate your beingness on some level (like “identity card”) -and which make it harder for individuals to shift away and move on….(what a great employee retention strategy! lolol)

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