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The end is already written into the beginning. We all know that. ‘Everything must come to an end’ is a statement that’s often been repeated, lest we forget. This knowledge, in turn, has spawned terms like carpe diem, seize the moment, live in the moment, or enjoy the day to its fullest. Because, as we also have been reminded, tomorrow does not belong to us — until it arrives.

All a bit morose, no doubt, but it doesn’t hurt to acknowledge the realities of life. There’s a clear-cut beginning and a very clearly defined end. In between is what we do with the time we have. That’s what makes the world the vibrant place it is, because what each of us does with the time we are given differs widely in variety.

Individual differences

This, of course, we know too is because each of us is an individual and we’ve also heard or been reminded about ‘individual differences’. Which, in turn, has spawned a range of sayings, ‘what’s meat for one is poison to another’, a door ajar is either half open or half closed, the glass is either half empty or half full.

Perceptions, in other words, and how two people may perceive the same object differently. Then there’s behaviour in the time given. How we choose to lead the life given to us.

This leads me to a good mate of mine, the principal of a school, now on the threshold of retirement. He’s reached the stage where he feels he could work a few more years, steering the ship of education — his school has more than five thousand pupils alone and nearly three hundred teachers; but another part feels he’s ready to put a full stop and close the chapter on a career that’s been exacting but rewarding at the same time.

Should I go or should I stay is the perpetually rotating debate that’s been playing out in his mind which he now says is veering towards ‘go’.

It takes two hands to clap

Which reminds me of what the former Australian captain, the great Ian Chappell once said about retiring, ‘Go when people are still inclined to ask “Why?” rather than when everybody’s asking, “Why not?” Sound advice. And so, my mate Henry is bringing down the curtain gradually on a glittering career in education.

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He himself wouldn’t use the term ‘glittering’ to describe it. Too modest for that. Too straight forward, too. He’s the one who’s going to leave with a lot of people still asking, ‘Why?’. Even the ones who’ve crossed swords with him, with regard to discipline, admissions, parenting (slack parenting).

Parents never like being told off or reminded of their responsibilities but he’s one who hasn’t hesitated to call them in to remind them that, ‘It takes two hands to clap’, and you’re as responsible for your child at home as the school is equally responsible for their time at school.

Seeds of discord

Men like him tend to make heaps of friends, earn cartloads of respect, but also gain a few, let’s call them foes, for want of a better term. Little plots will be hatched in quiet corners, disinformation will be disseminated, tiny seeds of discord will be sowed.

But over the years, he’s weathered these small infractions with aplomb, calling a spade a spade, as only he knows how and never regretting it at the end of the day when we all sometimes take stock of how our day has been run.

Henry will retire satisfied with the way he’s run his career. It may not have been his guiding motto but unconsciously he’s been following the age-old principle: People can only ride your back if it is bent. He will leave work with his head held high and his back ramrod straight.

— Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.