A moment of pride

For more than four decades I had a job where people praised me every week. There is a tradition in many churches of the pastor standing at the door of the church to greet worshipers after a service. In the days before Covid, people would line up, shake my hand and give me a greeting. I enjoyed the contact with the people I served, and the immediate feedback on the work that I did. Every week there would be some one and most weeks there would be many people who said a word of praise about the worship service that I had planned. It gave me confidence about the work I did. It probably also skewed my sense of self worth. I know that such a practice can make it more difficult for one to see mistakes and the need for change. I didn’t worry. There were plenty of channels for negative feedback and I got a fair share of that as well. I hope that I maintained some sense of balance throughout my career.

Then I retired. Suddenly the feedback stopped. I no longer have a line of people waiting to say, “Nice sermon, pastor.” It isn’t just the feedback I miss. I miss the people. Like many others during this pandemic, my contact with others has shifted dramatically, but I think that the process of retirement has made my shift a bit more dramatic than what has been experienced by some other people.

My life, however, still has some moments that I treasure and that remind me of how I am connected to others.

Yesterday, we met our son to go for a walk during a break from his work. He often has long days with meetings in the evening and I know that experience well. Sometimes, however, it is possible for him to walk away from his office for a little while and it has worked on several occasions for us to meet him to take a walk. We are getting to know the neighborhoods around the library and beginning to feel at home. As we walked, he stopped at the post office to drop off an envelope that needed to be mailed. We waited outside and he came out talking to another man, who lingered for a while at a safe distance. He was asking our son questions about the library - a recent remodeling project, when patrons will be allowed back in the building, the rebuilding of staff following pandemic lay offs, and more. I felt a surge of pride as I witnessed our son as a professional engaged in serving his community and receiving feedback from a library patron.

Later we returned to the library. A woman was standing outside her car in one of the library’s curbside delivery spaces. She told us that she had forgotten her cell phone and didn’t know how to let the library know she was there to pick up her books. Our son introduced himself, got her name and ran into the library and returned with her books. As he made the trip inside, we told the woman we are his parents. She told us about how important the library has been in her life. She is recently widowed after a long period of caring for a husband with dementia. She told us how the library staff were always so kind to her husband, how they helped her find the right books as his mental capacities declined. The children’s librarians helped her find books and movies that entertained him. Now, after being alone for a few months, she decided to adopt a puppy and she needed some books on training a dog. She called the library and found help getting the books she sought.

It is a really good feeling to have a stranger tell you how important the work your son does is to her and to the community. In a community where we know almost none of our neighbors, it is an ego boost to walk around town with someone who a lot of people know and respect.

One of the blessings of life is having meaningful work. I didn’t always think of that when I was engaged in the day to day struggles of balancing work and family and a need for a bit of personal space. Now that I have retired, I am well aware of how fortunate I was to have been continually employed in a job that contributed to my community and gave me real joy. Over the years I’ve had plenty of conversations with people who felt stuck in their jobs. They didn’t enjoy the work they did, but didn’t know how to make changes. They needed the income and so endured unpleasant work experiences. It was very different for me. I enjoyed the work I did and felt that my work was meaningful and the daily challenges of the job kept me engaged. Now that the time has come for me to retire, I miss my work. I’m not unhappy being retired, but retirement makes me feel especially grateful for the work I had. At this stage of my life it doesn’t feel like it would be a burden to return to work for a while and I may do so after we get settled.

Now it is particularly gratifying to see our son engaged in meaningful work. I am amazed and proud of the work that he does and moments like yesterday when I am given the opportunity to see his impact in the community are treasures.

I was young and new in my career when my father died. He never got to see much of the work that I did. I know, however, how proud he was of my education and my graduations. I remember the sparkle in his eye at my ordination. Now I understand it in ways I could not at the time. I hope that our son and daughter will one day have the joy of seeing their children find meaningful work. It is a family legacy far more valuable than the kind of wealth that is measured in dollars and cents.