Dispatches from the desk of John MacMillan

Mirrors

I attended my wife, Gabriella’s, retirement party recently. I’ve attended many such events in the past decade, and expected it would mirror the others — a brief sojourn in a packed meeting room, earnest soliloquies, inside jokes, tepid applause, and then over-iced slab-cake served on paper towels.

Suffice it to say, I was surprised.

I arrived late for the afternoon event, the victim of bad traffic and (my) poor planning, and sneaked into the back of the lunch room where several dozen people had assembled. I could see my wife at the centre of the room, steadying herself against a table, like Caesar contemplating a forum. Her boss was in mid-speech, citing examples of my wife’s excellence, noting her consistent good work (in both English and French) and the fact that clients had dubbed her “their favourite”. This I knew, but I enjoyed hearing the words from someone else.

Then several of her co-workers began their elegies, tearfully, haltingly. They related how my wife had changed their working lives, how she offered selfless assistance to younger workers and brought her tremendous sense of humour to the workplace. Many people nodded and smiled. I caught the eyes of my step-son, Dan, and we both expressed surprise; his mom is a lovely woman, bright, sensitive and gorgeous — but you wouldn’t call her a jokester. What had we missed?

Then Gabriella spoke. She said how much she loved her team and applauded the value of the work. She described the difficult decision she had made to retire, noting that it had been hastened by her health (she is a cancer survivor of five years +) but mainly by her belief in the need to create room for another generation. “We Baby Boomers have hung around for too long,” she said. “It’s time for us to move out of the way.” Again, more nods in the room, though mainly from the heads that had not yet been tinged with grey. She thanked everyone to many hugs and much applause.

It’s a truism to say that we share as much time with our colleagues as we do with our spouses. We are blessed to share meals and a bed with someone, but seeing them in the mirror of their “work families” — the people who share as much or more time in your spouse’s life — is a special grace. Those we love, fettered with daily travails and boots of clay, make us proud when seen through the eyes of their colleagues. I am so glad I went.

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