I was at my work’s social club Christmas drinks on Friday evening just gone. It’s a fun occasion, and one that I had been looking forward to for some time, not least because of the free flow of alcohol and food: for a nominal cost, of course. It’s also an occasion to catch up with work colleagues who’ve moved to other jobs and locations during the year, and to meet new people; people who work for my department, but whom I wouldn’t cross paths with in the normal course of doing business.
We are relieved that we still have jobs, but feel varying degrees of guilt for having survived the culls. Often, the good-byes seem arbitrary and unplanned; an ode to a merciless and insatiable bureaucracy that must have its blood and tears and sweat sacrifices at any cost.
My work colleagues are an eclectic, smart, complex bunch of people. Individualisms and idiosyncracies are embraced in a mostly live and let live approach to workplace diversity. This year has been a tough one: we have lost friends and colleagues in a relentless and continuous cost-cutting exercise – this is what state government does best at the moment. A once thriving, vibrant workplace now resembles a post-apocalyptic world as wave after wave of good-byes mark a mostly unremarkable year. Many of us are suffering from survivor syndrome. We are relieved that we still have jobs, but feel varying degrees of guilt for having survived the culls. Often, the good-byes seem arbitrary and unplanned; an ode to a merciless and insatiable bureaucracy that must have its blood and tears and sweat sacrifices at any cost.
But in among the good-byes are some hellos. And some good to see you agains. And glad you are still heres. And it’s at functions like Christmas drinks where we laugh and cry and laugh some more at the heartening, tragic, excruciating stories in which we lay down our truths, naked and vulnerable at each other’s feet. We make no judgement. We simply share. And console. And celebrate. And be.
Like the young man who is married with two young children, but can’t share the Christmas frivolities with his wife, because they have limited access to after hours child care. His parents look after the children during the working week, but his wife’s parents are reluctant out-of-hours carers. He is unlike some other married workmates at these events; he neither hunts nor prowls. He cares about the welfare of his female colleagues, and says to me as one departs for home in the wee small hours: I don’t trust taxis to get her home safe. I’ll go with her to make sure she’s ok. And go he does.
Like the lovely young couple who have only been together for a very short time, and who are just beginning their tentative adventure together. She was gracious and elegant and beautiful and glowing in her description of the circumstances in which they met and how he wooed her: so very, very different to her ex. He was understated and kind and generous, and his good nature allowed him to roll with our gentle – and not-so-gentle – teasing. I asked him how long they had been together, and he replied: Not long enough. Three tiny-huge words that lay the groundwork for love and respect and dignity and belonging.
They seek the fairy tale happy ending, vaguely aware that their stories are more complicated, like Choose Your Own Adventures, with their choices driven by circumstances and events and happenings largely beyond their control.
Like the young women in their mid thirties, beautiful in their own special way, who have been bitten hard by the twin fangs of love and sex this year, and who battle to find their place as single women in a world where coupledom is both the norm and the expectation and the ideal. They seek the fairy tale happy ending, vaguely aware that their stories are more complicated, like Choose Your Own Adventures, with their choices driven by circumstances and events and happenings largely beyond their control. I feel for these women, who have not yet reached the place of contentment with their lot, nor resigned themselves to the inevitability that destiny, in the end, plays us all.
Like the older women – those who have married and had children and separated and divorced, and who still hold out, against all odds, against all hope, that their special someone is still out there somewhere, and they will be found. He may be on Tinder or at a karaoke bar or at a work Christmas function. They peruse the room, eyes settling on random strangers, wondering: is he the one? but refusing, wisely, to settle for just anyone.
And then there’s me. I am noticing with each passing year how time has sped up. The weeks fly by, hardly registering, as one month flows into the next, one year blurs into another, barely able to differentiated. I think about how limited my time is on Earth, and I often contemplate my end. More than my end, though, I contemplate my legacy. What of me will I leave behind? How will I be remembered? Will I even be remembered? What will people know of me, about me? How have I and my life mattered, if at all? There is still too much to do, see, achieve for me to bow out now. I’m not ready to go, not ready for that final curtain call. I am only just coming to terms with the reality of me: the stripped back, bare-naked, vulnerable, ferocious, unafraid, fabulous me.
My time here, whatever that is, can best be described in three tiny-huge words.
Not long enough.