Work is a mysterious thing. Many of us claim to dislike it at times, but it takes a grip on us that it captures our emotions and loyalties we never knew existed in us.
It was a retirement party for a man who had spent forty years with the same company and his colleagues from his office were in attendance. There were prepared speeches, toasts and gifts, just like hundreds of retirement parties being held around the country that night.
Some guests came a little early, while others came a little late. The women kissed, pressing their cheeks, kissing the air, while the men backslapped each other and then settled, with either short of long lapses of disconnection.
Then, they would mill around the retiree, go back to their seats but like a magnet, each one would go back to the man, repeat a tale and offer him whatever. More than just breaking bread with him that evening, it seemed like each person had to something say to him. Looking faintly bewildered, the guest of honor looked like he could read his colleagues’ faces. Whatever he was looking for, he found it in their demeanor and every burst of laughter.
It is said that a man’s work—if he is good at it—is just as important to him as his family. It requires a delicate balance, giving equal attention between the two, not having the luxury to overlap.
With his job separate from his family, the men and women he had worked with in that same company for 40 years were just names. Now that he is 65 years old, the rules had to apply—he must retire.
The speeches began, filled with references and in jokes that made the man laughing and nodding his head in recognition as every speaker took turns making the people in the room roar with glee. The speeches were specific, not general. It was mostly of little matters that had happened over the course of the years, and each remembrance was like a small gift to the retiree, sitting and listening.
As a quiet observer, I thought about how the man was going to feel the next morning, knowing that for the first time in his adult life, he wouldn’t be driving to the building where the rest of people there would be reporting for work. The separation pains have to be just as strong as losing of a family member. However, in the world of the universal work force, a man is supposed to accept retirement.
None of us really can change the world, but we can touch the people around us. That is the real purpose of a retirement party like this one—to tell a man that those memories will remain, even though the work rules say that he has to go away.
The plaque and office gift was presented, and 40 years of work found its end—then he went back home to ponder about what his life would be in retirement.
And the rest of us went back to our own homes, our lives, to wait for our time to retire.
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