Jim Bishop: Neither shy nor retiring – not yet, anyway
. . . sitting in the back of Martin Chapel, surveying a swirling sea of backs of heads, many familiar-looking, some not. Some are losing their hair and compensated by growing beards, while others sport speckled-gray or flowing silver manes.
Time may heal all wounds, but it also seems to nibble away at our vitality, deflate our egos and increasingly thwart attempts to fully pursue our first loves and passions.
Such anxious thoughts reverberated in my own cobwebbed noggin as I watch a Power Point of new faculty and staff members who have joined our learning community as another school year is about to unfold. It will be my last time to partake of this annual ritual that signals the countdown to the start of the new school year at my workplace, Eastern Mennonite University.
As I listen to the conference keynote speaker, a number of references she makes to persons and events that occurred while a student here in the late 1960s I suspect are lost on a goodly number of the attendees. Some who weren’t even born then now enter this academic arena in similar fashion as I did nearly 40 years ago.
Some persons, on learning that I’m in my 40th and final year at EMU, as much as ask outright: Isn’t it tempting to back off, to go with the flow, disengage the mental cogs and coast to the finish line?
Yes, I confess that notion has knocked me up side the head a number of times, but I don’t intend to yield to that enticement.
I truly want this 2010-2011 year to be among my best. I’ll try to engage in some campus activities and causes that in the past have not been priorities. I’ll take a lot of photographs of people and events to document the year for my own personal record.
I didn’t want to take on one more thing when asked last semester to be a mentor to a first-year honors student, but agreed to do so first because it was an honor to be asked and secondly – even though it sounds a bit selfish – this involvement will give added flavor to the year and, hopefully, help contribute to the student’s maturation.
In the midst of much change – especially as I perform certain tasks and write certain articles and stories for the last time – I will continue to adhere to a long-standing resolve to only attend and contribute to those committee meetings and related gatherings that I absolutely have to. I will steer clear of taking on any more assignments in this final go-round.
I haven’t sent messages, or better yet, given face-to-face words of affirmations to my workplace colleagues to the extent that I should have. I intend to do more in this last year of my vocational career. I’m also asking persons who have recently retired or are about to for counsel on how to maximize this year and what I can do now to make the transition to retirement less traumatic.
Former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda reportedly said, “Choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
I’m grateful that, apart from sitting in too many meetings or writing hometown news releases, I can resonate with that observation.
Over the years, I’ve received more than I’ve ever been able to give at this place. Despite a share of sweat and tears, setbacks and regrets, the joys, satisfactions and accomplishments have far outweighed the burdens and disappointments.
One of the biggest challenges for me, day in and day out, especially at this life stage, is living with unrelenting deadlines. Practically everything I do must be completed, usually to meet others’ expectations, in a certain time frame or rendered useless (some would say everything I write meets that criterion). Weekly radio programs and a newspaper column add to the workload.
At the same time it’s been an incredibly valuable discipline to force me to get a lot done in often short time spans. I worry already that I’ll get lazy after leaving this place, wanting to continue a high level of
journalistic output but knowing I no longer have to do it. Will I find myself slipping away from the computer and getting hooked on that vast creative wasteland of daytime television?
Interestingly, as persons find out that both Anna and I are in our last year of active employment – she a kindergarten teacher starting her 29th year in the Rockingham County School System – they seem more concerned about “what next” than we are. While we appreciate everyone’s interest in our welfare, the usual response is: we have more concrete plans in mind than we’ll ever be able to accomplish. I breathe prayers of petition that both of us will have sufficient physical and mental health and stamina to be able to pursue them.
It’s been a good, exhilarating journey, albeit fraught with potholes and obstacles along the way, I entreat God that I’ll have sufficient resources to pay the fare after exiting the toll road.
Jim Bishop is public information officer at Eastern Mennonite University. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.