Beyond clichés

At graduations around the country six months from now, high-roller speakers will tell the kids that they must bring passion to whatever they do in life.

“It doesn’t matter if you are the president or a garbage man,” they will say, “your passion will define true success.”

They will say that, though not one of the invited graduation speakers will be a garbage man.

I was heading out to work early enough to bump into our garbage man. He was tossing the bags into the back of the truck, where the flotsam and jetsam of our lives would be grounded up into recyclable something or other. He’s a young looking, nice guy.

“Hope you like that I put the empty cans right by the garage door!” he said. “Sure do,” I answered. “Saves me from hauling them any farther than this old back has to.” He laughed.

The retirement thing is happening to me.

About the time you read this, I will be officially sleeping in when the young man comes to get the trash.

There are a lot of things I have promised to do in my retirement.

The Liturgy of the Hours is high on the list, along with the usual suspects: grandkids, exercise, reading, writing this column. Some useful human and spiritual service, I hope.

But I confess that though I am retiring by choice, I am still suffering through mixed emotions as it stands right in front of me.

My first job was when I was about 10. Generally speaking, I’ve been at it ever since.

I’ve done jobs that people don’t do much anymore — setting bowling pins, soda-jerking, delivering the afternoon daily house-to-house.

I’ve given tennis lessons, taught history classes and written newspaper stories. I’ve worked with my hands; I’ve worked with my back; I’ve worked with my head.

My son told me that an old fellow he knows said to him that the hardest part of retirement is that you never get a day off. Which makes me worry that I might reach a point where I won’t know what to do with myself.

The Old Man didn’t do retirement well. In his day, he had no choice — 65 and he was out.

He had loaded stuff on ships, sung in bars, played semi-pro baseball and was an executive with a bank for decades. And then one day it was all over and he raged against the dying of the light.

The Old Man taught me a lot of lessons. One is that you have to let the rage go while you keep the light flickering.

I’ve been blessed in just about everything I’ve been allowed to work at in my life.

But the one truth I’ve found in all the decades of working has nothing to do with passion.

It’s simply this: God’s daily gifts to us are the people who touch our lives.

One key to retirement is not to isolate ourselves from those gifts.

Each of us has as a goal to find our vocation and live it. That’s why the Church speaks so often of the dignity of work.

Our work is a vocation, a gift and a grace. It is a sharing in God’s creation.

But at the same time, our work is not our whole life. We don’t just share in God’s creation. We also need to enjoy God’s creation.

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mk 2:27).

Maybe retirement is made for man, not man for retirement.

After wishing each other a good day, the garbage man got back to work and I got back to driving to work. He waved; I tapped the horn gently since the sun was barely on the horizon.

If anybody needs to arrange for a graduation speaker, have I got a guy for you.

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.