“I really try not to tell people what I do.”
She paused, a sheepish grin betraying her feigned show of modesty.
“I just Lyft part time. I’m actually in morticianry school right now.”
Her words slipped by so innocently that they almost went unnoticed. Like a tween bank robber walking out of a Wells Fargo with bills pouring out of a Hello Kitty backpack.
Cosmetology school, she must have said. Beauty school. Nursing school, maybe.
Morticianry isn’t even a word.
She chirped and chattered, firing off a murmuring frenzy of questions about UCLA and San Diego and what I was doing that night. Top 40 droned dully over the hum of her red Honda Accord. It was a young and warm summer night. The balmy breeze made my eyes a little wider, my laugh a little deeper. The giant fuzzy pink Lyft mustache on the dash made us both a little uncomfortable.
“How did you get into mortician — ry?”
Her eyes lit up, voice brimming with excitement. “When I went to Cal State San Marcos for a field trip, this medical examiner exhibition was there. They were showing… really graphic pictures of people that die all around San Diego.”
The words bubbled over affably, like she was telling the story of how she picked her sorority at a dinner party.
“And everybody was, like, all freaked out about it. Crying. I mean we were in, like, eighth grade. Seventh grade.”
Her tone grew childish with wonder: “I was just sitting there like… Whoa. Whatever that is, I wanna do it. ”
“Destiny, huh?” I mumbled, with some impossible mix of sarcasm and genuine bewilderment.
She went on, further — stranger. Stories of families requesting gold fillings from the mouths of loved ones who owed them money. A long and lucid description of her favorite approach to avoiding pesky odors by sewing a corpse’s mouth shut, and patching up the job with lipstick.
I’ve heard the purpose of conversation is to make another person feel good. Some people think conversation is for making a person like you. This was not a conversation by either account. Maybe it was learning.
I don’t hope to ever use my unsolicited knowledge of cadaver cosmetics. In fact, if I ever need to use the information this Lyft driver bestowed on me, I should consider the possibility that my life has gone horribly wrong.
There is one thing I hope to remember from my ride with the morticianry enthusiast, though: Passion can be a truly strange thing.
There are a lot of people writing books about how “following your passion” erases all your problems and fills your life with ease and ecstasy. How “doing what you love” gives you wings, adorns your forehead with a pretty spiraling horn, and sends you to an eternally blissed-out rave for Passion Unicorns in the sky. What these books don’t mention is how strange the unicorn’s journey can be.
“Following your passion” means surrendering to a silent and unintelligible intuition. Becoming your fascination, whatever that may be.
It means you’d better have a sense of humor. Because things may get weird.
Wherever you’re going, whatever you want, know this: stranger people are doing stranger things than whatever your silent intuition has been so coy and curious about.
Somewhere out there, a chatty Lyft driver is sewing clammy mouths shut, putting stage makeup on cadavers. And she’s smiling.
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