When friends of mine retired, I discovered they had different attitudes toward retirement. Most couldn’t wait to get on with life without work. Some of them even counted the days until the end of “imprisonment.” Others were a bit sad to come to the end of a lifetime of work. A few weren’t sure what they would do now they didn’t have a time card to punch.
So as I approached my retirement, I wondered how I would react? Would I be sad or glad?
As it turned out, I almost forgot to send in my retirement letter. In that letter, I noted that I still enjoyed teaching and really wasn’t ready to go. But you don’t get any younger and usually no better, so I decided golfing and traveling had to be my new priorities.
I cruised through the last two months of work, marking exams, weeding old lesson plans from my files, and attending meetings. I really didn’t think about how retirement would affect me during that time.
Then, it came down to the last few weeks before “R” Day. I panicked because I still had two four-drawer cabinets full of 32 years of lessons, notes, assignments, exams, reports, handouts, and ideas. I had a floor-to-ceiling shelving unit filled with my companions—my books from all the teaching years.
I had an accumulation of items from having touched the lives of 3,200 students. I had files of letters for 151 students I wrote letters of recommendation for. I had files of letters for faculty, for events, for grants, for wrongs to be righted, for appeals, and you name it.
I had another high shelf loaded with binders containing every piece of paper for every course I’d taught over the years.
My wife told me she didn’t want me to bring anything home. “Be ruthless” was her advice. So I packed up the books, stopping to read pieces as I did so, but finally took several boxes of books—my life really—to the Castlegar Library. I’m a tough guy, but it was a sad moment leaving them there.
When several large recycling containers were delivered to my office, I began sorting and dumping. I examined every file with this question in mind: Would I ever use it again?
Over the course of 32 years, I taught at least 100 different novels and made notes on every one of them –interpretation notes and questions to ask in class. As I looked at these and thought of all the work I’d done preparing lessons for students, I thought about saving these files. I had in mind that I might write scholarly articles for each of these novels sometime soon.
So at first I saved every novel-file. Then I chucked the ones I would never write articles on. Then I discarded ones I had no more interest in. In the end, I kept about 25 files—one box to be exact.
I filled three recycling containers three times with the jetsam and flotsam of my life in paper. When the campus manager inspected my office, I was down to four small boxes—three of books I couldn’t part with and one of files. And when I placed these four bits of my work life into my van, I was sad that it came down to that.
I knew I would miss the staff. Selkirk College was always a happy place for me to work. Sometimes when I’d go out for a drive on a Sunday, I’d end up at Selkirk and wonder how I got there. I knew I would miss the teaching because I never really had a bad teaching day. But I realized it was time, so I sighed briefly and drove away.