I know, you were expecting someone else. So was I.
But after mentioning my upcoming retirement in this space two months ago, and then writing a long (and poignant, I thought) goodbye column last month, we decided to interview “just one more” candidate to replace me as editor, and the president of our company asked me to stay a few weeks longer. So here I am, with just a tincture of embarrassment, saying goodbye yet again.
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. You know as well as I do how long it takes Minnesotans to say goodbye. It starts with a long prelude in which a guest looks at his watch and then at his host and says, with pronounced reluctance:
“Well, I suppose . . . .”
“Already? You just got here.”
“Some of us have to work in the morning.”
“So you’re getting up before breakfast for once?”
“Before you, that’s for sure.”
“There’s some more dessert here.”
“Where would I put it?”
“Well, I guess it’s late for me, too.”
And so on and on, until, 30 minutes later—longer if the wives are there, carrying on a parallel conversation—they are standing in the driveway.
“Mileage still good on the buggy?”
“Oh, yeah. But I keep it tuned.”
“Sounds like it runs okay.”
“Sounds better with the radio turned loud . . . .”
And then, 10 minutes later:
“You drive careful now.”
“Don’t worry. And I’ll see you again Tuesday, right?”
“Wouldn’t miss it.”
I might as well confess that I have enjoyed this long departure from publishing. Colleagues who will assume some of my responsibilities have already begun to do so, and my inbox became only half full after planning began for the issues to be published after I’ve left. So-long lunches and flattery are abundant, levels of congeniality are high, and I detect a new, let-him-have-his-way-he’s-leaving-soon-anyway deference to my judgment. Especially pleasant is the postponement of a few of the worrisome aspects of life without full-time employment.
Don’t misunderstand: I want to retire. I have been in this job for nearly 10 years, and planning our 35th focus on commercial real estate was, simply said, less stimulating than working on the first two. As Tennyson’s Ulysses said, “The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks.” There are other things I want to do.
I am eager to help establish a limited partnership investing in distressed bonds this fall, for example, and looking forward to becoming president of the Minneapolis Club next spring. I will be an officer of Meet Minneapolis through 2011.
There’s more. I am on an advisory board at the Hamline University business school, on a committee of Community Health Charities, a member of the board of Minnpost (which will take on added significance if either of the Twin Cities’ daily newspapers disappears), and a charter member of a mostly Indian-American organization that offers networking and guidance to young entrepreneurs. I have investments to watch and have been asked to write a column for this magazine. And reasonably smart people should be able to amuse themselves without a highly structured schedule, right?
Still, there’s worry about wanting to do more, the advantages of having a flexible schedule notwithstanding. And there’s this: We are often defined by our occupation, and it is unappealing to be without definition. I don’t mean in any existential sense, of course—I know who I am—but socially, among acquaintances and peers.
At times, at least, we have all regarded retirees with sympathy—on the sidelines, out of the loop, apart from the activity of the day. Some years ago, I was privy to approximately this telling conversation between two women who had just met at a wedding reception:
“Do you have a career?”
“I teach, but I’ve taken a sabbatical to write a book. And you?”
“No, I’m at home. We have three children. They’re still young, and . . . .”
“Oh, listen. I’m not working either. I say I’m on sabbatical because whenever I tell someone I’m not working, they ignore me.”
If it is true for housewives, it is doubly true for retirees.
But not for short-timers. For us, life is briefly like the pleasant period after one’s high school graduation, a period of hiatus in which social activities have replaced projects, tests, and other responsibilities, the status of “recent graduate” is defining enough, and serious obligations are months in the future.
If you remember high school, you probably recall Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” The narrator stops to admire a “lovely, dark, and deep” woods, even though he has “promises to keep,” and “miles to go before I sleep.” It’s not that he wants to defer the rest of his trip—or the fulfillment of those promises—for very long; but for the moment, he finds it very pleasant to linger a bit, perhaps to reflect on the “sweep of easy wind” and to watch the woods fill with snow.
And then, as it always must, it becomes time to move on.
So, I suppose . . . .