Looking back, most of my 62 years have been a gradually changing landscape, except for the times when I just dropped what I was doing and took up something completely different.
The first time was in the late '70's part way through a PhD in biochemistry. I still don't really know why I quit, but I spent the next three years working in a plywood mill figuring out what to do next.
To alleviate the boredom, I took up singing lessons and practiced at work, where my melodic warbling was drowned out by the loud machines. Not entirely, it seems, as I remember some wiseass up on a catwalk hollering down asking if I was calling out for first aid. In the end, I left the mill and went into law school.
Most recently, I tried to retire from law and took a job in a microbiology lab. Compared to law practice, I had a pretty idyllic life looking after the typhoid, cholera and pneumonia collections. Sherlock Holmes in retirement on the Sussex downs tending his beehives. But after a couple of years, my two favourite lawyers from the old firm started their own shop and asked me to join them, so my valiant attempt to be a recovering lawyer happily ended in a relapse.
Both of those detours were deliberate. But there was one that took me by surprise: a burnout. I wrote about it in When I Fell. That was like stumbling into a pothole.
Casting around for something to do, I ended up driving the night shift for a taxi company. At first, I was dealing with self-created shame because I had 'failed' to keep my act together as a lawyer, but when I look back now, those two years as a cabbie were golden.
Driving alone to pick up a fare, I could practice being mindful, waiting for a trip was a chance to meditate, but best of all, transporting customers was a never-ending lesson in kindness.
One of my regular fares was a 'working girl' who also happened to be a heroin addict. I was touched that she would take long cab rides to the hospital to visit her husband, whose foot had been amputated because of diabetes. She wore her best clothes to look pretty for him and insisted on introducing me. They obviously cared for each other and somehow, her occupation didn't seem to be an issue for him.
I didn't see her for a few weeks, but when I finally did, she seemed subdued. Her husband had died. She told me she had gone to a native ceremony held for him and found much comfort in it. She asked me if I could possibly take her on a $5 trip but only charge her $4. All I could say was "No, but I'll take you there for nothing."
One evening I drove a lady to church. She suffered from a mental disorder of some kind and spent the whole trip talking to herself, rummaging frantically through her purse looking for $2 for the offering. When we arrived at the church, she paid the fare with a coupon and rather bleakly started to get out. As she did, I asked her if she would mind doing me a favour. She gave me a puzzled look as I gave her a $2 coin and asked if she would please put it in the collection plate for me. Her face lit up like the sun and she said yes, she would! I thanked her very much.
In due course, things changed. A door opened and I walked into a law office and sat down behind the desk. I have many fond memories of those years. Some conversations I will never forget.
DA: Car 16.
Dispatch: Go ahead, Car 16.
DA: My rear end is making a weird noise.
Dispatch: Say again?
DA: ... er, the car's that is...
Dispatch: Glad you cleared that up, 16.