I woke up at 4 a.m. today. I’ve been doing that for about a week now. So many things flashing through my mind that sleep just doesn’t seem to be an option. Crazy huh? Here I am, finally able to sleep as long into the day as I want and … instead of sleeping I’m finding myself lying awake, listening to the early morning (or is it middle of the night?) sounds, and thinking about all of the things that I want to do. Today.
Let me go back a few days to my last hours at work. On Thursday, my penultimate working day, I spent the day organizing my computer files, deleting old e-mails, packing up the last of my belongings, and chatting with all of the wonderful people who dropped into my office to say goodbye. At 4 o’clock David picked me up and we headed down to the Duke of Somerset pub. As I entered the pub and saw my dear friend Esther sitting there I almost tripped in my surprise; she’d come in all the way from London, Ont (a 2 hour train ride away) and she’d kept her coming a secret. The next two hours were filled with more and more of the same kinds of “oh my goodness” moments. There was Gary who’d been in graduate school with me (28 years ago), Hazel who’d worked with me at one of the schools I’d taught at (20 yearsago), Rina who’d worked with me in Kosovo, Pauline who’d been a former Director; colleagues and co-conspirators, people who’d nurtured me, and mentored me, and taught me. There were the people who’d been my life-long friends and those who’d become friends over the years. Some of my family was even able to be there, which made it all the richer. For those two hours I just revelled in memories that kept a grin on my face. Their presence, and their words, filled me with a sense of gratitude and joy for the work I’ve been able to do and the wonderful people who have supported me and worked with me. Seems that – at least to those who spoke – I’ve made some contributions after all. I think I’ll still throw a party for my family and friends who couldn’t make it to this workday party, but I can’t imagine a nicer workplace sendoff than I had. Thanks to Janice, Marilyn and Cheska who organized it.
Friday morning started (again) at 4 a.m. I got to work at about 8, parked in the underground garage, and – carrying 2 cakes that I’d brought in for my colleagues (one inscribed Goodbye, the other Good Luck) – made the trek down the long hallway that leads from the garage to the elevators. There was another woman walking through that hall with me and we quickly began walking “in step”. As I listened to the sound of our footsteps the phrase “Dead Man Walking” ran through my brain; I smiled and thought – no, it’s “Live Woman Walking!”
Those morning hours were spent mostly in paper-work, turning in keys and IDs, initialing forms that attested that I’d returned all Ministry equipment, deleting the final few files that were still lingering on my computer, emptying the garbage, saying the final farewells. As I left I walked around the floor one more time, full of both a sense of excitement and trepidation. Douglas Adams (in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency) said: “We shall grapple with the ineffable, and see if we may not eff it after all” ; I can’t even begin to put into words all that I was feeling.
I closed the door of my office (for the last time) a little before noon and headed for home. My first call was to David to tell him that I was on my way; I caught him at a busy time though so he said “Saraleh, I’m in a meeting, I’ll call you back.” Seemed like innocent words I’m sure. “Oh my God”, I thought to myself (I might have even said it out loud if truth be told), “I might never be in a meeting again!”. My first post-retirement moment of panic. Is never being in a meeting again a bad thing? Likely not. Is it likely that I won’t ever be in a meeting again? Nope. It was just that crashing, crushing reality of a door closing. I know many more doors are going to open, but nonetheless, it’s a scary transition.
By the time I went to bed on Friday night my eyes were itchy, my nose was dripping, and I was sneezing and aching. Where did that come from? I spent most of the day Saturday in bed, sleeping off what I feared would be my first awful cold of the season. We were meeting friends for dinner and a play (Frost/Nixon – if you haven’t seen it, it’svery good. Hear there’s a movie coming in December. Chilling to think how manipulative and corrupt a President could have been. Wonder if there will be a Frost/George W that will make this play seem benign?) and somehow I managed to get myself out of bed and into reasonably presentable mode. “So”, I was asked almost immediately, “how’s retirement?” Since it was still the weekend, really nothing had changed … other than this palpable sense of change in the air.
Sunday morning I awoke feeling almost better. It was a busy day, starting with participating in my first Global Beit Hamidrash, a series of mornings that David and I will be spending studying Torah under the tutelage of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. After that there were chores to do, errands to run, a pot of soup to be prepared, and time to relax. Throughout the day I was still being asked “so, how’s retirement?” and still didn’t have much of a sense of it since nothing had changed.
And then it started changing. David asked what time I’d like to be woken in the morning, noting that for one of the first times in over 8 years he wouldn’t be driving me to work in the morning. Aiiieeee!!!! There it was. I was done with “the last” time thinking; it was time to move to “the firsts”. So – here I am – writing this post – and for the first time doing it in the morning hours (when I’d normally be busy getting ready for work). There are already some other “firsts” planned for today. I’m going to spend 2 luxuriously long hours at the gym. My friend Laurie is taking me out for my first “retired ladies” lunch. Then I’ll walk – slowly, looking around, enjoying the fresh, autumn air – down to the university to teach my course. David will pick me up at 9 p.m., we’ll come home, and my first day of retirement will draw to a close.