i went to a retirement party on thursday and can’t get it out of my mind. perhaps others have gone to party after party honoring friends’ or relatives’ years of dedication to tasks or roles, but i have not. i’ve been to a few. i’ve spoken at a few. and, every time, they deeply impact me.
retirement is something that only some folks actually do. anymore, by retirement age, many people have worked in multiple places or have held the kinds of roles and positions that don’t automatically qualify one for a work place sponsored retirement party. for other individuals, the positions they have held are within the home or family or sector of the work place where public recognition doesn’t happen. these people don’t have a formal time of honoring when they leave their position or post. in direct contrast, retirement parties provide amazing space for an important process of recognizing someone not so much for what they are leaving, but, rather, for who they are and who they are becoming.
i wish that everyone were able to receive such recognition.
the individual whose retirement i got to celebrate this week was being honored for 28 years of service as a county health commissioner. i have served along side this man in a relatively intense volunteer position for nearly 3 years. on thursday, in the short 45 minutes that his friends and colleagues spoke to him about what his presence has meant in their lives, i learned of a rich depth of experience that i knew nothing about. at the end of the formal part of the celebration the day was officially declared as gary oxman day in multnomah county and, at this, my heart swelled.
what would it be like if everyone were able to be given an official day of honor? what if each of us chose, at random and frequent intervals, someone to gift with a “retirement opportunity” of sorts? perhaps it would offer the following:
1 a chance for someone in our lives to be recognized for the tasks they perform every day that frequently go unnoticed but are vital to at least that persons’ survival. it may not matter to you that your brother carefully tends to his yard everyday. it may not even make sense. it may be, however, that it is deeply meaningful to him (and possibly even interesting or beneficial to others) and having it noticed would honor his sense of self discipline and follow through. the same might be said of the million small and large tasks the people in your life do every day to help them move through this difficult task called living.
2 the space for that person to reflect on how they have lived their life to this point with the commensurate opportunity to make changes. i’m not exaggerating when i say that every retirement party i’ve ever been to (with the exception of one) has included the honoree making some kind of statement about a regret. might it be possible that, if we took time to honor what someone is doing well or right they might be spurred to think through what they might like to do differently? mr rogers wrote a profoundly important song lyric when he wrote, “i’m proud of you, i’m proud of you, i hope that you are proud of you too.” when a person is gifted with pride (or love or recognition or honor) from someone else it often causes them to turn their thoughts toward how they feel about themselves. in so doing one is given an opportunity to reflect upon that which they might like to change. when this happens in the context of another’s support they can feel a sense of empowerment to make changes in a way they might not otherwise.
3 an expansion of our own sense of possibility. there is nothing better for our own development than allowing the greatness of others to inspire us. i’m not speaking of the kind of recognition of others that focus’ exclusively on their external accomplishments and that we use to beat ourselves up for being less-than. i’m talking about noticing in others the things that make them unique, special, a gift to the world. this is especially true when we find these traits in those who we would normally consider “less-than” ourselves in some way or another (age, position, appearance, status, spiritual belief, etc). humility and awe and vulnerability are good for the soul.
4 a world where the focus is on colleaguiality and friendship more than competition and comparison. a favorite book title of mine is i love you the purplest, which focus’ on a mother’s love for her children and how she can’t compare her love or quantify it. my friend’s impressive and honor-worthy accomplishments in dealing with major public health crisis’ does not need to be what i measure my own success against nor do i need to use it to order my social circle or rank my connections. i can simply love my friends and associates in all their own “unique-est” ways and work diligently to be the most “doreen-est” person i can be.
i’m entering into this new week with the intention of declaring mini moments of honor for all the people in my life. i may not be able to declare entire days or plan elaborate celebrations but i can provide words and gestures that recognize the dedicated and unique contributions that those around me make every day. mini opportunities for reflection, connection, recognition, and meaningful encounter that make their lives better...and mine.