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!