My view on Lent is that it is really meant to be a time for personal renewal. I do not see it as a time to give up things as if that alone adds much. I like the idea of giving and trying to do that without question during the Lenten season. But, I also like the idea that one’s own life is up for reassessment.
Ironically, I met this morning with a former colleague, who is not much older than me–in his late 50s–and has also taken early retirement from the International Monetary Fund. He now goes to work downtown in a lovely townhouse he owns, the ground floor of which he has converted into an office. It’s not my dream work place but it is a good indication of how the place you work can inspire what you do. I’ve been playing around with that thought for a couple of weeks.
He has three computers–two on his desk and a laptop–and a large flat-screen television on the wall: it was tuned to CNBC and financial news was flowing. His office looks like a trader’s but he is doing analytical work: one desktop is for e-mail and another is for writing, so his stream of messages appear without interruption. His laptop is on a separate table with his coffee machine–I guess for a change of scene.
He explained why he had decided to work out of an office separate from his home in the suburbs: his wife thought it would be better for him mentally. He looked happy, as he sat facing his shelves stacked with folders and files. He explained how he liked the European feel of his location, with its older houses and cobbled streets, and his vague notion of being in London when he stood in his doorway and looked out at the coffee shop across the street. I smiled, understanding what he meant.
We talked about ways that people who take early retirement approach that next venture. He was not interested in going fly fishing or just hanging on golf courses. He wanted to do things that both amused him intellectually and could generate some income. So, he offers advice to a range of clients: governments get it for free; corporates have to pay; he also spends time doing some academic work. We discussed whether something like that package would interest me. He thought that, maybe, I needed to write on some topics and get some hedge funds to take a look.
He understands the needs to balance his work schedule with that of caring for a child with all its needs for shuttling around the city. Working for himself gave him flexibility to drop things as needed, but to have a core of time during the school day (say 8am-3pm) that could be seen as a reasonable time for work.
We talked for about an hour and he gave me some ideas that I will play with over coming weeks. I have some thoughts for a venture that I need to discuss with a friend.
Later in the afternoon, I dropped my first grader off at church for her choir practice. We planned to stay on after and attend the evening Ash Wednesday service. My first thought was to spend an hour thinking a bit more about what I wanted to do for Lent. One thing I wanted to do was to walk the Labyrinth–a centuries-old spiritual tool–and I planned to do that this evening, for the first time.
While I gathered my thoughts, I met one of the church officials who regularly keeps me fed and watered when I do my midweek after-school drop-off. I explained that my thinking about Lent was that it should leave you with a sense of having cleansed yourself. It is not a comfortable process and the sense that one has gone through internal reflection that could be painful in terms of what it reflects about oneself is an important element. I had started that process a couple of weeks ago and continued it over the weekend. I mentioned this to my donor, whom I shall call THE Tea Lady. Her response was priceless
“It’s like taking on a renovation or cleaning out a closet: there’s the point where you’ve ripped it all out and you wonder why you ever started this. A coat of paint would just have been fine.”
What is so apt about that is the sense that you have gone the harder (if not hardest) route. It fits well with the notion of Lent given to me by a former Rector: Do the thing that is most difficult.