February 28, 2006
The End of Two Eras
Today marks the end of two eras. My mother-in-law retires today after years of managing the office of a social service agency. She's the first of my parental units to retire--uncharted territory for our family.
Also today, longtime InterVarsity Press employee Andrew Craft leaves to concentrate on the crazy scope of personal projects he's launched over the last few years. Andrew, among other things, designed the InterVarsity Press website and the Strangely Dim weblog. That road sign was his idea.
Eras end with a lot of fanfare. There's a big party today at my office and another big party where my mother-in-law works. There will be shared memories and conversations about what the future holds. There will be jokes and teasing and food and drink and general revelry.
And then tomorrow comes, and with it the beginning of something new, with patterns that have yet to be established and connections that have yet to be made. Officially, the workplace is the place we work, but under the surface it's the place we most frequently gather, the relationships that are most consistent in our lives. What are Andrew and my mother-in-law giving up by moving on? They won't know till Wednesday.
Leaving a job is a scary proposition. I know one person who hopes to die at his desk, in part because he doesn't want to face the music at his retirement party. I'm drawn to the idea because without my job I'm forced to determine for myself who I am apart from what I do. Is the end of an era the end of days or the beginning of something new?
Ben Folds sees the end of an era, in the grand scheme of things, as relatively meaningless:
Today's just a day like the day that he started . . .
Cat Stevens looks at the end with relief:
If I ever lose my hands--lose my plow, lose my land . . . I won't have to work no more.
I'm not moved by the end as meaningless or the end as nothingness; the end as beginning is what appeals to me. Both before and after the end of an era we remain inherently relational people looking for something to do. When Samwise Gamgee parted from the Shire in The Lord of the Rings, he surrendered his comfortable present in order to embrace a new calling. It was hard, and the way forward was hard too, but one day he would hear songs sung about these later days, and he would know that the end of one era had marked the beginning of the next.
Read Pete's comment on "The Best Imitation of Myself" at Loud Time to see how the movies separate our workplace selves from our true selves.