You were “in IT” — a microchip of a phrase, like saying you worked in Washington. And even though you were here for a reunion, you didn’t want to talk about that — about InfoSec. But you didn’t mind really opening up, and I didn’t have to pry.
With the appropriate dash of bitterness to go with the sweetness, and with the rhythm of a drill sergeant, you said, “My daughter has grown up and moved on.” She was in that part of life when we’re still trying to get everything right, “damned the cost.” Not you. “Been there, done that.” And you were happier than you thought you’d be to have your own parents near you at the end of their lives. Your mother recently died of heart failure, and it was “not pretty.” Your father died of a stroke a few years before that, and though it wasn’t pretty either, “it was faster.” You were single, now. And without explanation, but not without some acknowledgment of that burdensome idea that you shouldn’t be, you said, “I’m keeping an open mind.”
Alumni weekend was different this year. You’d been anxious about going because last time people “stayed on the surface.” But this year, “people were present.” I wondered if your open mindedness had a part in that. The theme was adversity, and you said by this point in life, “the third chapter”, everybody had their story. And stretching out the word to really cover all those in attendance — you reiterated, “Everybody.” You did share your “story” with me — the one between your daughter leaving and you helping your parents. I asked what someone might do to weather something like that. You said, “It’s always about who you want to be. That doesn’t end.” “Life is not easy,” and you emphasized that, “sometimes we forget.”
You said the worst thing to see at a reunion is a person who’s still “name dropping at this age.” I asked you to say more. “Oh you know, schools, your kids’ schools, towns, neighborhoods, brands, firms, a way of talking about those things all the time. An image. I mean come on. Still? Who are you? I mean who are you really?” I echoed, “Do they want to be the person who talks about those things?” Confirmation that I was on the same page, you said, “That’s right.” And of course, “Maybe they do.”
We finished with the next thing — not the end, but an ending. You’re going to retire in a small village in a place you don’t speak the language, where things are walkable, and where there’s a river. You heard that it’s nice to live near a river. You won’t need much – just enough. I asked you if you would consult or do remote work. You said, “No, I don’t want to do that anymore.” You will look for jobs teaching English as a foreign language though. You will buy your bread at the baker, your meat at the butcher, and your vegetables at the grocer. You will ride a bike. You will meet students for coffee and take dance classes in the evening in a second floor studio with huge windows overlooking quaint streets. And if it doesn’t look like any of that — if something happens that throws you off center, you’ll remember to ask yourself who you want to be.