As I looked around the room, I felt out of place. I had dressed up, and although it felt funny to be wearing a dress, I certainly didn't look out of place. But it felt very odd to be in a courthouse again. It felt very odd to be in a roomful of lawyers again. And it felt very odd to see people who once loomed so large in my daily life now fumbling because they couldn't remember my name.
I had wanted to be a lawyer all through college, and although I didn't particularly love law school, I knew that being in law school was an experience that wasn't anything at like practicing law was. I liked my summer jobs -- some at law firms, some at government agencies -- just fine, and I could do them well. After graduation, I deferred the decision about what to do next by taking a one-year clerkship with a federal judge. At the time, my co-clerk and I would frequently talk about how great being a law clerk was, and what a shame it only lasted a year. And then that year was nearly over, and I had to decide what to do next.
What I really wanted to do was be a federal prosecutor. But it's hard to get those jobs; they're very competitive, especially in a large northeastern city like Philadelphia, and there was no way they'd hire someone who didn't have at least a few years' experience in the legal world. So I accepted the offer I had from the large law firm where I'd worked summers. It was a logical choice: the salary offered me a chance to pay down my student loans while getting some training and experience.
Things didn't work out exactly like that. In the end, two years of big firm practice (read: stress, accounting for every quarter-hour of my time, long hours, little job satisfaction) was enough for me, and I switched to a small law firm with a similar type of legal practice but vastly improved hours and a reduced paycheck. Along the way I got married and then before I knew it, I ended up at home with my kids and stumbling into a second career in the knitting world.
I'll admit it: for just a second yesterday, I felt kind of wistful. I looked around at the suits, at the judges sitting on their dais, at the enthusiastic face of my friend being sworn in to, as he puts it, "fight the good fight." For that second I wondered what if. What if I'd continued to be a lawyer.... what if I'd become a criminal prosecutor instead of a civil litigator ... what if I'd ended up as a judge someday... what if I'd ended up committed to fighting the good fight...
The ceremony was over pretty quickly and we mingled for a bit at a reception. I caught up with some of my ex-colleagues and my lawyer friends, and then we were on our way. On the way home, I had to stop at Loop to pick something up (hey --I really did "have to" stop there; quit snickering!) and I had a chance to check out some of the new yarns, and be around fiber people once more.
I remembered how it felt being one of a dozen people working on a big case for a big company, spending years slogging away on paperwork, getting a trial date set, and then the case settling. I thought about the stress of practicing law when the stakes are high (whether due to the dollar amount involved or the fact that someone's life or liberty was at stake) and the way it used to churn up my guts. I remembered how out-of-place I always felt around gaggles of lawyers; how I wasn't really interested in the things they were (sports; the Wall St. Journal; legal cases; sports) and how hard it could be to make small talk with them, to find a connection.
And then I thought about the smell of lanolin, about the little thrill I get when I pick up a beautiful skein of yarn. I remembered the pride I feel when dyeing yarn and the colors mesh perfectly. I thought about how wonderful it feels when one of my customers takes a skein of yarn I've dyed or a pattern I've written and turns into a beautiful scarf or shawl or pair of socks. I thought about the luxury of being captain of my own ship, of making my own decisions about where I want this little business of mine to go. I thought about the pride I feel when I see my name on the page of an article in Vogue Knitting or the spine of a book. I think about the creativity, how it energizes me, how I feel like I'll never get to try all the things I want to try, knit with all the yarns I want to knit with, turn all the ideas in my head into real garments that are made and worn by real people. I think of the way I feel when I'm at TNNA or a fiber festival or even in a yarn shop: that feeling of belonging, of being around my people. And not least of all, I thought about the luxury of meeting my kids at the bus stop each day, of never having to worry about who'll look after them if they're too sick to go to school, about each story book I read to them and each batch of cookies we baked and each nasty-ass diaper I changed. I wouldn't trade any of it in for a navy-blue suit and matching briefcase. Not one day of it. Every speck of wistfulness was gone.
Maybe my former colleagues don't recognize me when I'm wearing a hand-knit scarf instead of a pantsuit. So what if their eyes glaze over as soon as they hear that I'm no longer practicing law, or if they look around the room for someone "more interesting" to talk to when I say I write knitting patterns for a living and we don't travel very much. Maybe they even say behind my back, as I have been told they do, "what a waste that Carol doesn't practice law anymore."
|Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—|
|I took the one less traveled by,|
|And that has made all the difference.|
Yes, that has made all the difference in the world.