Rites of Retirement: A Passage

I’m one of the lucky ones. Offered early retirement. Great timing, generous package, no issues around healthcare coverage. It sounds so simple. And in many ways it is. But underneath there’s an astonishing complexity and richness — the tenderness, the grief of partings, the possibility of new adventures, the flashes of understanding as this 40 year door closes.

Waking up the first day, awash in these fragments, I suddenly realized the obvious: retirement is a rite of passage.

Background

For as long as I can remember, I’d assumed I’d be at least 65 before I could afford to retire — and more likely a good deal older. But then, last year (at 61) I was flabbergasted to learn I could retire at any time. As I absorbed this wonder, I realized I wanted to remain working. I loved my job too much. These last few years have been the happiest of my long career — surrounded by fellow gear-heads and Web challenges, growing at my not-so-tender age into the latest technologies (HTML5 and responsive, in particular), leveraging my skills in some ground-breaking projects, and, most of all, belonging to a fantastic team.

My team

Best team ever

Fast forward seven months…. In July, Mr. Web Diva and I set off on what turned out to be the trip of a lifetime. While that’s a story for another day, the thing is it changed me.

In one of those twists of fate, those same three weeks were a pivotal time for my institution; and it too changed. Responding to a budgetary crisis, enormous reductions in staff had been announced. Returning, my astonished eyes saw fear and discouragement where I never had before. It seemed to have percolated through the system in next to no time.

In retrospect, that first day back I began a grieving process. Four days later, I was one of 650 offered an early retirement package. This time I leapt at the opportunity. I’ve never once in the intervening weeks doubted that decision. But oh the grief… and the confusion of simultaneously tapping into deep wellsprings of joy and possibility.

The sweet grief

As my team bid me farewell last Wednesday and Thursday, first with a stunningly tender retirement party and then a myriad kaleidoscope of good-byes — the hugs, the kind words, the many smiling faces — I was dumbfounded with appreciation. What struck me is something I had never realized before. You don’t talk about it at work. You don’t even think about it. It’s love. It’s that deep pulse of happiness I’ve felt the last few years belonging to such an amazing group of people.

Why, I wonder, do we avoid this thought? If I’m any gauge, it’s at least in the best interests of productivity to squash it. But my best guess is it has to do with the English language. This poor single word has such a range of significant meanings — each with its own resonance. Greek does it much better with four words. I can’t tell whether this is philia or ag├ípe. But whatever it is, it feels wonderful and right — even for the workplace. And it means parting is truly a sweet sorrow — filled with tears and laughter and the best of memories.

I’ll never forget walking into our large light-drenched break room — packed this time not just with cheerful furniture and autumn views of Centennial Park, but also with people, balloons, banners, flowers, even a slideshow of my work. It took my breath away. And I’ll never forget all the hugs and good-byes from my last hour on the job. It’s like a photo album in my heart.

Up next?

So here are a few of the things I’ve been itching to do, and now presumably will have time.

  • Work more with the W3C’s WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative). Such fun. I’m crazy about this team too, and now I’ll have more time to really dig in. Maybe I’ll even figure out the perfect code for an accessible and responsive illustration. Ha! But I’ll have a blast trying.
  • Along similar lines, I can’t wait to finish up Accessible Nashville for the WordPress Cities project.
  • Learn more NVC (Nonviolent Communication).

What’s is all about, Alfie?

In Buddhism, there is long (very long) honored transformation around my age from what’s termed “householder” to monk or ascetic. Of course it’s traditionally associated with men — wealthy Asian men at that — not baby boomer American geek moms. But still… somehow… it fits.

It’s not that I’m leaving behind house, family or (heaven forbid) the Web. Instead my focus is naturally shifting — like my stars tugging me gently towards forgotten longings for a rich inner life.

The details elude me. Writing, perhaps? Or scuba-diving with my better half?

Whatever it is, I’m doing my best to ride its wave — encouraging it with my own peculiar brew of NVC, podcasts, Kindle daily deals, church politics (of all things unholy), and of course, creating for this wondrous medium, the Web.

4 comments

#1 Taneya on 11.16.13 at 4:18 pm

Anna Belle – congrats on your retirement. They offered the package to 650 employees! I’d heard it was around 250 or so. Wow. We had two individuals in our area take advantage of it. Cool that you’re working on the Accessible Nashville project! I am sure you will have plenty of projects to keep you busy!

#2 Anna Belle on 11.17.13 at 5:50 pm

Thanks, Taneya! Hope all’s well with you and your department!

#3 Joey on 12.04.13 at 4:24 pm

Anna Belle, the best team ever… was because of you. Your dedication and willingness to ALWAYS help, even the new guy, will never be forgotten. It’s strange to hear the word “love” in or about the work place. Maybe we do just need another word for it, but it is real. We miss you and I hope your inspiration and smile will continue to linger around here for a long, long time.

#4 Anna Belle on 12.04.13 at 5:43 pm

Aww…. Thanks, Joey! I so miss you guys — and am also loving getting to march to my own drum. Meanwhile, thank goodness for Happy Hours!

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