It seems to be a story of farewells at the moment. A succession of changes, none of which feel like a change for better, only a termination of something I valued or a relationship I cared for.
One of my team at work, one of my own hires so particularly dear to my heart, recently quit and has just worked her last day. She’d only worked with me a few years, but we travelled a long way together during that time, and I am full of respect for her way of handling herself. I don’t say that often about my fellow human beings. The rigmarole of leaving gifts, drinks, handover documents and HR exit questionnaires has been and gone and now I’m left with some sense of loss, saddened by her departure — and needing to cover her work with no immediate prospect of recruitment…
It was also my sad duty today to write out to the members of the board of advisory academics that I run and terminate their formal involvement in my project. Budget cuts, you know how it is. They were understanding. They’re clever folk and could see the writing was on the wall. Some of them wrote back very kindly about how much they’d miss their dealings with me and my colleagues, about how they valued our meetings and the rigour of our work, the intellectual challenges we were addressing together. Yes, I feel the same way. Our work will be consequently impoverished.
These moments when personal feelings and professional duties converge are difficult. At work one is supposed to maintain some dispassionate distance but I’m also teaching myself to feel it all, to be more open to the ups and downs of life and to live its full richness. So in all these cases, the academics as much as my team member, I tried to voice to them the value I had found in our work and our relationship. It needed to be said. I also tried to keep my professional composure while I did so — with varying degrees of success.
On top of this I did a flying visit across the country one weekend recently for more variations on goodbye. A long-term member from my old college is about to retire and I wanted to see her one last time in her professional setting. She was very generous to me (and Hubby) in the past when we were as financially poor and generally insecure as I’ve ever been. Her warmth and generosity shone out and she brightened some of the dark days I struggled through then, weighed down by flagging doctoral research and an uncertain future.
And on the way home from this, finally the most difficult moment of all, but also the most ambiguous. Is this a goodbye or not? We were visiting my relative who is seriously ill and avoiding the family — or are the family avoiding her? I don’t know. But I know that I had to see her and to be physically close, even if I felt scared and uncertain and a bit more of a responsible adult than I usually need to be in my easy life. She looked surprisingly well, though I could see her tiring easily and could detect her pain though she hid it well. I know a little of some of the tricks, perhaps. But I there’s only one direction out from the diagnosis she has and I have no way of judging the distance she has left to travel now. So is this a goodbye or not? In any case, I couldn’t here say the things I might have wanted to. That would have been for my benefit, not hers. So I played my part, according to my best understanding, matching her mood and inclination for talking or not talking.
I was given a rose from the garden as I left. Its scent filled the car all the way home, through the joyless motorway hours, but even as I watched it shrivelled in the heat like some clichéd metaphor for the transience of existence and the inevitability of decay.
I’ve read that all yoga practice is simply a way of readying us for death. How can that be?