The other day at lunch, a young friend asked me what I did for work. His response to my answer was surprised and definitely disappointed.
"Oh," he said, "I thought you would work with animals or something. Like a vet."
Oh, how true, from the mouth of babes, etc., etc. How dull, indeed, does my actual work sound, in comparison with my friend's idea of what I should do, based on many conversations and hours of looking at animal photos and videos on-line together, and talking excitedly about if you had a farm, what creatures would you keep on it...
It's weird how in that moment, I felt distinctly as though I'd let him down. As though I'd let myself down.
Because naturally, he's right: I should indeed work with animals.
It was what I always wanted.
This morning, reading about a hyena researcher in Africa on the NY Times website, I am back to thinking about it -- about how I didn't pursue what I perhaps should have, what I certainly could have, but instead went a different route. It never does cease to intrigue me, how this happened. Yes, there are many things about the profession I've wound up in that make sense -- I do love numbers, the clarity of systems, the grammar of financial statements. Yes to that. At the same time, why wasn't I encouraged in the direction of the sciences?
It occurs to me that adult words have inordinate power on child minds. That even though it might not have been intended to close the door, the snapped "Animals? You should be a doctor, instead," in response to the declaration of wanting to be a vet, dimmed that childhood aspiration. Other kids would have been able to tell me what was right for me. But the adults, somehow, didn't see it. And I let the thick soup of their attitudes dictate my path.
I'm not bitter about it. I'm amazed. And hoping that I learned something from that, that I didn't repeat it, when it was my turn.
For a little bit, I was trying to get back to that childhood ambition, taking classes at College of Marin, pursuing my passion for animals, everything about them, in natural history classes. I loved Biology. I love Mammalogy. I crashed and burned this semester, though, incapable of focusing on Herpetology given what was happening with Jasper, and withdrew, knowing I couldn't give it what it required. It was a distinct relief to step away from it.
I thought it was for good, but now realize it might just have been a break.
The two-semester-long Ornithology series begins in the fall, and is tantalizing, indeed. As is the idea that even though I didn't make animals my life's work, that doesn't mean that they don't remain my life's passion. So that even though animals are not my job, I can still say to my young friend and to myself, that I'm doing what I love, staying true to what I know is true, being me.