The rising sun was turning the sky the deepest reddish pink as it edged towards the horizon to the east. I watched it for almost the entire journey and wondered how long it might be before I travel this road again and witness the dawn.There was no other traffic at this early hour, so I was able to drive reasonably slowly to savour the journey in the quiet of this cold, clear spring morning.
Crossing the bridge on the River Maigue has been a highlight of my life on each morning that I have commuted across here for the past 20 years. Sometimes it is mysteriously misty, sometimes it is golden and lit by the rising sun, sometimes it is moonlit, most times it is just ordinarily beautiful.
I arrived very early to the office as there were things I needed to do before the buzz of new arrivals – drawers to be emptied, confidential papers to be shredded, files to be organized and a day’s work to be done. I (exceptionally!) walked up the 8 flights of stairs to take a look again at the streetscape below. I continued on to the top floor to get a cup of coffee and to look east wards again at the rose coloured sky forming a beautiful canvas for the tall spire of St John’s Cathedral and the tops of the city buildings.
I have had an extraordinary bonus of enjoying some of the most beautiful scenery in Ireland every time I looked up from my desk to see the River Shannon coursing below.
I had developed a habit in recent times of taking photographs, as the River looks different almost every time you look at it.
Being tidal, the river is constantly changing, rising and falling some 18 feet twice a day. In winter when there is heavy rain we may not see the stony river bed for months on end.
Colleagues arrived. There was debate about the news items of the day that impinge on everyone, including the new property tax – the pincers tightening yet again! Morale was not high on that particular day, but after some light-hearted banter we ‘got on with it’. I was surprisingly busy with phone calls to make, notes to write up.
So this was it! One of my lunch group reminded me that it was time for lunch and I said that I had to pop out and that I might be a while. (I was doing some research on Antarctic Explorers then , and ‘borrowed’ the quote!).
At about 1.45 pm I logged out of my computer, gathered up my security passes, placed them in an envelope, put on my coat and walked away from my good friends, and hundreds of colleagues (most great, many very good and a small forgettable few). I was walking away from a job that I loved, with tons of mental stimulation, camaraderie and social interaction as well as wonderful scenery and the daily joyrides that were my commute to and from work. I had already hinted to close friends that they would not be given advance notice of my exact day of departure, and I was grateful that my managers respected my need for privacy. So I was able to ‘exit’ quietly.
Mandatory retirement is no longer allowed in many countries, including Ireland. Most people can now work for as long as they want, without fear of discrimination but here in Ireland it is ‘statutory’ for some employees who commenced employment prior to 2004 to retire at age 65. It seems extraordinary that a person can go to bed at age 64 as an asset to the workforce, doing a good job efficiently and well for a number of years, yet wake up on their 65th birthday as unemployable. This is of particular significance in a country that is in the throes of an economic depression with huge numbers of people seeking non-existent jobs. Of course my ‘mandatory’ departure date did not come as any surprise. Long term contingencies were very quickly rendered useless however by the rapidly changing social and economic conditions in Ireland in recent years – not least of which has been that my once geographically closest family members have relocated to a place 10,000 miles away.
Officially ‘on holiday’ for another week, I plan on spending that time lamenting the loss of the social interaction of a large office and delighting in the friendships I made there. It is too early to reinvent – time enough for that in the weeks and months ahead.
For now, I will relish the light-hearted moments and laughter that were bound to come along every day, as well as the quippy and often black humour that abounded in the place.
I will recall the always cheerful early morning greeting of the delightful woman in the canteen, for whom nothing was too much trouble!
I will delight in the memory of companionship at early coffee, when you would not know who might happen along on an early break, and I will still ‘hear’ the very familiar footsteps of a special friend coming along the corridor, always looking beautiful and armed with her designer shopping bag and with her lively daily greeting of ‘Bonj’ before she rushed away to her ‘career’.
At lunch, we had time to bond – shepherded along by our ever precise and delightful clock-watcher, always in good humour and who managed to organize us all in the most charming way. Bringing up the rear was our ‘Drama Queen’ who regaled us with stories ranging from her amateur drama society escapades to a too-close ‘encounter’ with shampoo on a shop floor, to the hazards of Roman toe ( or was it Greek?). These two, together with the above mentioned career girl and myself made up the hardcore lunch table.
If we arrived slightly early we might join our ever thoughtful, ever smiling, quietly spoken elegant and wise friend, who always has time for whoever is in her presence. From time to time we would be joined by the ever-cheerful woman of the West with the hearty laugh and oodles of common sense, or the witty ‘cuttie’ (girl) from further north who always had a sideways but pleasant view on life to make us smile. Sometimes another quiet but stalwart friend might join us – IF she remembered it was lunchtime – but invariably 20 minutes late!
There are several others who fall into the ‘very special’ category and whose company was always well worth seeking out and one or two ‘long distance’ colleagues who had left our particular place. These too are a huge loss to me, and I am forever grateful for all of them.
I will miss all of this. I will miss these very special friends who were part of my days, part of my weeks, part of my joys, part of my tribulations, part of my highs, part of my lows, part of my hoots of laughter! We have lived through births, marriages, deaths, personal trials and challenges both IN and BECAUSE of friendship.
I will not ever be able to replace any of this. It is of its time and of its place. Now is a time to remember. Now is a time to be glad for all of it. Now is a time to shed a tear or two. Now is a time to smile at these memories. Now, and always, I will lament their passing.