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Retirement Can Be Fun
Friday, Apr. 09, 2004, 11:33 p.m.

QUESTION: What's more fun than a retirement party?

WHAT I LEARNED: Speeches are unpredictable things.

Retirement parties. They can be fun for everyone.

Take, for example, the retirement party I attended recently. The retiree was standing before the podium by the time I arrived and well into the course of his speech. There were many people standing in a semi-circle clutching glasses of punch and listening politely. Before the retiree was a stack of typewritten pages – his notes. There was a microphone but it didn’t seem to be turned on. Or maybe it just wasn’t powerful enough to amplify the muffled remarks of a weary worker coming to the end of his hitch, and form those thoughts into the reverberating talking points of a high-powered public speaker.

It doesn’t matter. His speech was rambling in a delightful off road vehicle ride kind of way – hitting unforeseen bumps and turning off unexpectedly in a new direction without any warning at all. Tales were told about rats jumping off of boxcars that could be viewed on a good or bad day – depending on perspective – from a workplace window looking down across the road and past the railroad tracks. Old bosses with bad people skill were brought to light again. Retirement plans that were unlikely to pan out were analyzed and put back on the shelf for further consideration. Personal health history was shared as a springboard to an examination of life philosophies.

This was a very long speech. People were wilting. The cake was crying out to be cut. There was food to eat and it was Friday afternoon. But this retiree was not going to head out that door and into his retirement without sharing a little bit of life from his side of the desk. This was a retiree who meant to have his parting moment at the podium. It was a brilliant sweeping tactic – he had given a farewell speech not soon to be forgotten – on his own terms and without anything he wished to say left unsaid. Nothing could top it except the obligatory official retirement photo session and, of course, cutting that cake. Sadly, I have given up sweets for Lent.

After the festivities had ended and I was on my way back to the office in the backseat of a careening taxi, I had a few minutes to consider what he had said. And really I am not sure it wasn’t more of a song of the heart than a speech - a muffled melody of the work-a-day world – hard to understand at some points and yet crystal clear at others. Don’t look out the window too long. Accept that long-standing plans may not turn out just as we think. Bad bosses are not forgotten. Sometimes your health needs to come first. Philosophizing can be a rather satisfying activity at times.

Farewell, my friend, and may your retirement be a long and happy one.

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