It was a cold winter afternoon and we were sitting at one of those elegant, traditional restaurants in Washington, D.C. where you can get a fish and chips and a beer while craning your neck to hear both journalists and diplomats.
Oh, how I hate these forced social gatherings, I thought to myself. Maybe it will come and go quickly.
The occasion was a birthday celebration for a colleague. I didn't know why we had to do these kinds of things, really, but then again socializing at work was never my strong suit. Dutifully I listened to the various remarks, the "hear hears," the heroic tales about muddling through the trenches of red tape, turf battles and general inanity.
It was time for dessert. Mercifully there are no more speeches, I thought but sure enough just then my boss stood up and rattled her thick glass mug with a spoon. "Just one more speech," she said, grinning widely. "Try to tough it out, and maybe I'll release you guys from the staff meeting tomorrow."
Well that sounds good to me, and I almost genuflected with relief and delight that we could be spared yet one more senseless time-wasting session.
My colleague stood up to speak.
"I have only one thing to say," he began. "I hope you don't mind if I speak with candor."
And we grew quiet. The good cheer and the jokes turned into something somber, as we received the fact that something important was coming.
"I am grateful that you all came here to celebrate with me today. There are no better people in the world than those who work for the federal government."
We were even more alert around the table now. That sounded like a run-up to something very significant.
"I will be leaving this agency soon," he said. "I'm getting older now. Florida is calling my name. The wife is ready - and I know you all saw it coming."
We nodded; this was true.
A brief pause, and then he continued, his voice growing louder.
"But that's not my main point. What I really want to say, as someone who has lived on this planet for sixty-three years, is that we live in the finest country in the world."
And then the volume went way up. Now it was lightning and thunder.
"I am so proud to live in a country where every man has the right to call the President an idiot."
Not sure about everybody else, but at this one I let out a little gasp. It's been eight years of Obama this and Obama that, the forced political correctness, the quiet agreement not to say anything, or, if we did say something we would close the door and quietly say to one another, oops they did it again, those arrogant politicals.
My colleague said a little bit more about freedom of speech, how he valued being a citizen of this country and how he appreciated that the federal government protected his rights as an employee.
We walked back in the frigid cold. Nobody went to the staff meeting.
I think about all the federal employees I know, the ones who will give you an earful about how things are worse than ever and the ones who claim it was much, much worse if you remember how it was way back when. The ones who clearly have drunk the Kool-Aid, the ones who have checked out; the ones who laugh and say "Oh, goodness, what are you getting so worked up about?"
The self-help guru Tony Robbins says you should spend three minutes every day being grateful for what you have. Remembering that party, and thinking of the wit and wisdom of my colleagues, makes me so.
All opinions my own. Photo via american-flag_4245_1 atFlickr (Creative Commons).