A colleague I had been working with for past few years, went into retirement today. We had had the ‘event’ with the team to mark the transition, and yet when the moment came to finally leave, he almost imperceptibly said, “bye” and made to leave. Just like that. Literally slipping out the back door, like he had said many times he wanted to do. I noticed he had tears in his eyes. Perhaps that’s why he didn’t want to linger.
I know him to be a very private person. I think of myself as one too. And yet, there are times when I am clearly aware that I come from warmer blood. From a warmer country. Irrespective of what we may think of ourselves, we from the warmer climes cannot let people be. I told him I will drop him off at the gates. He said he really didn’t want to give the trouble. I said I wanted to take it. I said I hoped I wasn’t intruding his privacy, and yet I didn’t let him be.
Because when you think about it- what’s worse? That you come off as a bit of a pest? Or that someone makes one of the biggest transitions in their life feeling lonely? I was ok with the former.
We ended up not going in the right direction- he missed the gate he intended to take. His son, from thousands of miles across some oceans, sent him a message that very moment reminding him to click some pictures before he left. No matter the distance, family is always closest. The only ones, in the end.
“How did he know when to send this message?” he wondered. “Telepathy,” I said. He nodded, “Will you please click some pictures of me?” He had an unplanned little photo session around the campus.
He seemed calmer. He found the gate he had intended to take. His son had thought of him. Somebody thousands of miles away knew how significant walking out that gate was for him. He was not alone.
“It’s hard for me, you know,” he said, “I have only ever worked for one company. I have always lived in the same city. Only ever lived in two homes.”
I nodded. “You are very lucky,” I said.
We said a less dramatic goodbye this time. I have seen many people leaving organizations- I tried to recall how many times I have seen people shed a tear while leaving the organization. I couldn’t recall many.
I thought about the ease with which we change cities, companies, friends. Change agility. Adaptability. Dynamism. It’s the cool thing. The necessary competence.
I thought about the beauty of living in the same home for decades. Of calling a neighbourhood your home for familiarity of years and years. Of loyalty to a spouse for a lifetime. Of attachment to a community or organization that brings tears to your eyes upon separation. Testimony that you had built something worth crying for.
I came back to my desk. The office area around me was buzzing with keypad clicks, phone calls, rapid steps rushing to meetings. The world had not changed from a few minutes back. Everything was exactly as it had been- the world was going on. Someone who had been there for 35 years wasn’t there anymore. And without a moment’s lapse, everything was the same. It seemed bizarre.
“That’s it?” I thought. I hope his son and he will enjoy going through the pictures.