The final moments of my work day follow a similar routine. I empty bottles, sort pens and notepads, turn off my fan, unplug my lights, settle my sweatshirt and jacket into place, steady a mask on my face, sling a bag over my shoulder, and perform three quick keyboard shortcuts on my computer. As I linger for a moment, still uncertain after years of practice that I have performed the proper functions, I feel the familiar weight of my bag, now light for the empty bottles and lunch containers, slip from where I had slung it to its familiar position. It will stay there, despite my best efforts, as I move down halls and through doors to leave my workplace behind in favor of the outside world, my car, and whatever my evening has in store.
The final step of my routine comes as I press the release bar on the side door and I let myself out into the small corner courtyard shaped not by intent but an accident of building features that has been adopted by those who need a quiet space. Safe from wind and weather by design features meant to look good on other parts of the building, this empty canvas stays a welcoming blank no matter the time of year and I make the most of it on days I cannot allow myself to be contained any longer. At the end of the day, though, as the final step in my routine, it serves a different purpose.
It gives me pause. The reason is different, changing from one day to the next and from one season to another. Sometimes, it is the reminder that even though it is only five in the afternoon, still not quite evening, it is already night. Sometimes, it is the reminder that I spend my days isolated from any view of the outside world, any glimpse of sunlight that I do not go out of my way to get. And other times, it is a reminder of the passage of time and the small changes that make up every day life which is never as constant or consistent as we would like it to be. After all, it has gone from being night when I leave work to barely dusk in almost no time at all, so why would anyone ever think every day is the same? So I pause. I take note. I experience a moment that interrupts the calcification of my life, that prevents my day from blending into a singular blur.
Weighted down by coats and coverings or already bearing a sheen of sweat as the season dictates more than any behavior of mine, I move on from that moment. Left behind are the worries of my day. They will catch up to me by my morning shower the next day or during the moments of fretting sleeplessness that sometimes fill my night, but at least for a few hours I can return to the life I live outside my occupation. Even on the days when I have felt myself crumple under the weight of what is being asked of me or what I think is expected of me, I feel myself restored in these moments. The pain lingers, the stress lingers, because I cannot undo the hours I have experienced by simply walking through a door, but the sight of the shadows stretching out before me and the late afternoon or evening light reflecting off the windows before me eases it somewhat.
I always meander from the door to my car. It is quite a feat, I feel, to meander in a straight line. To directly approach something without walking right towards it. But I have had a lot of practice. I managed it once, by accident, and worked hard to attain that feeling of idyllic and relaxed movement on command. It is like meditation, peace and effort going hand in hand until the effort becomes as easy as breathing. The slow, uneven, but steady gait as I move toward my car gives me plenty of time to appreciate the multicolored display in front of me and then behind me when the shadows give way to whatever light still remains in the day. Sometimes there is none, and all I have are the cold white of the lights in the parking lot and the ethereal, almost sourceless glow of the moon, but there is beauty in that as well that can bring comfort in the blinding white of winter or the dull browns of fall.
Sometimes, when the meander is not enough, I divest myself of my burdens and lean against my car. Uncomfortable because I am so much bigger than it, I do not linger long, but the warm glow of the sun, the pink and golden hues of sunset, and the diffused pale grey of a grey, overcast evening refill me at least enough to drive home. Life varies wildly from there, but this final step of my routine is one of the most important moments of my day, even if most of it has pased by then. The reasons change as often as the light levels when I leave, but it always makes me appreciate the difference between my life and what I do to support it.