Naturalist and essayist Henry Thoreau famously left his home in Concord, Massachusetts, in the summer of 1845, built a small cottage on the banks of Walden Pond, which was a little more than a mile away from the village, and lived there for the next two years. He went to the woods as an experiment, because he "wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life. and see if [he] could not learn what it had to teach." Thoreau did not want to reach the end of his life and discover he "had not lived." His book Walden details his experiment.
Thoreau did not stay exclusively at the pond, but often walked the short distance back to Concord to visit family and friends. Finally, he left the woods permanently in 1847 and moved back to town. He writes of his decision eloquently: "I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one."
I always had a strong fondness for Thoreau, although I was well into adulthood before I read Walden cover to cover. (For a long time, I liked the idea of reading Walden better than actually reading it.) Once I made it through the book, it became one of those I returned to and reread every few years, well, at least up until I lent my copy to someone and never saw it again.
Walden is on my mind because I just came out of the woods myself.
Nine and a half years ago, I placed my Ohio license to practice law on inactive status. I'd just undergone a tandem stem cell transplant and I was in no condition to return to my office, let alone advise anyone. By moving my license to inactive status, I gave up the right to practice law, but left the door open should I change my mind.
I have never regretted that decision. While I generally enjoyed practicing law in those town, leaving all of that behind was easy. I was done being a lawyer.
So why did I recently reactivate my license?
A couple of reasons, the primary one being that I am working on another special court project for my good friend and former employer, Judge David Sunderman of the Delaware Municipal Court. (This is in addition to my position as a mediator with our county Juvenile Court, at which I recently passed my fourth anniversary as a staff member.) I am creating a new treatment court, and as I draft the foundational documents of the court, I felt that I was practicing law, especially once I started working closely on procedural matters with the new court coordinator. Practicing law was a luxury denied me with an inactive license and the Ohio Supremes tend to frown on that.
A murkier reason for reactivating my license is that we have changed administrations at our Juvenile Court. We have a newly elected judge, a generation plus younger than the previous one. (Ohio has mandatory retirement for judges: they may not run for reelection after they turn 70.) There is the dazzling potential for transforming the court in new and positive ways. Some court staffers, Machiavellian to the core, have been trying to position themselves in the new era, working harder to position themselves than any small town political boss ever did. My license is both a sword and a shield to keep me out of the internal politics.
I am not returning ever to the practice of law. (For those local friends reading this, read that sentence again. I am not practicing law again, period.) I love working at Juvenile Court, especially the aspects of my job that allow me to work with juveniles, and my only unmet goals at Court involve creating new programs that may never see the light of day, let alone come to fruition.
But I have left the woods for the same reason Thoreau gave 168 years ago. I could not spare any more time to keep the license shelved, and it seemed to me that I still have several more lives to live.