|Posted by nancyfreund11 on July 29, 2015 at 10:25 AM|
Sixth grade, we were lined up at the school salad bar, wondering how much ranch dressing would render the so-called diet lunch no longer low-cal. My friend “Shannon,” (let’s call her Shannon), had recently broken up with her boyfriend and was officially single. She stopped in front of the iceberg and said, I need your advice. Who should I like?
-- Who? Should you like?
Three packets of club crackers shivered in my hand above my plastic lunch tray. Liking a boy, or boys, in priority order, was a choice? A choice one’s best friend could make for one? My world tilted on its axis. I eyeballed the chunks of cut cauliflower.
-- Well, who DO you like?
-- I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking you.
Here we are now, 35+ years later. I don’t remember which boy won that day’s battle. In Shannon’s case, the boys lined up for her, and she didn’t often get to write a pure priority list anyway, what with all the jostling and manoeuvring among the candidates. But the question stuck.
Fast forward to when I was tutoring for the athletic department at UCLA. Certain star athletes were granted limitless tutoring. One enormous sweet-souled boy could throw his discus to the moon, blindfolded and with his arms duct taped to his chest. He worked hard in the gym and in the classroom, and he took advantage of every hour his tutors offered. One day he brought me a list of essay topics from English Comp.
-- Which one am I interested in?
There was that same question again, this time wearing a mint green tank top to emphasize the biceps. Who -- or this time what -- should I like? I envisioned that cauliflower of old.
-- Well, what DO you like?
-- I don’t know. Which one will get me the best grade?
I could imagine which topic this young man might want to write, but he would have to do the research. The hours in the library would be his personal long, lonely, arduous slog, and even if I picked right and handed him his topic on a silver platter, would he still find it interesting, long haul, if he hadn’t picked it himself, or more to the point, if it hadn’t somehow called out to him? Me! Pick me! I am calling you, I am of interest, Gender Issues in American Post-Modern Literature! The Role of the Poor to Catalyze Social Change in Serialized British Literature! Point of View – How Perspective Shifts Impact Reader Understanding and Empathy! Pick me, big dude, they all shout. I am your calling.
Traditionally, only one or two people hear a calling, are called by a divine voice to the altar, to lead people who are not similarly called to scripture, to their best lives in a community, to their most fruitful versions of self, and to God. You can't very well have a whole congregation of called people, or there'd be chaos. If someone's going to be a leader, he or she needs a follower or two. Yet today we are all asked to determine our individual calling and pursue it with passion. Live our bliss. In the workplace, at home, in the grocery store, at the pool with our kids and the stay-at-home moms who sell silk flowered pillows from Nepal for a megolith nonprofit.
What if our bliss is watching Soccer A.M. on Saturday mornings or playing Grand Theft Auto whenever possible? Can that be a calling? Can hours spent on Facebook, wishing distant friends happy birthday and liking people’s Throwback Thursday photos be a calling? Can making home-made mac-and-cheese for friends of your children be a calling? Reading great literature? Reading short stories in edgy online litmags and putting poignant comments there in the comments? How about pulling weeds from between your peonies? Doing yoga with your neighbors? Isn’t a calling supposed to be noble, somehow, or at least spiritually uplifting? And isn’t it supposed to call out to you? Surely, it can’t be bought, it can’t be demanded or requested or sought. If you go around yelling for your calling, you’re just going to get back an echo.
So my advice -- go back to Facebook and your video games and enjoy yourself until a calling comes, if it does. Get yourself to your job and grab your paycheck, pay your bills, and do your best to keep the lights on. Take care of business. And by all means, keep liking those Throwback Thursday pictures. Friendship and support and connection all matter hugely, and that stuff counts. Don’t think for a minute it doesn’t. And then, if some clear voice cuts through the noise, pay attention. Turn down the volume now and then, because games and Facebook can be noisy. Quiet yourself to listen when you feel like being quiet, but don’t worry about callings. Even if you live in a disco or near an airport or on a construction site with 72 pneumatic drills, if something or someone’s going to call, they’ll get through. And when they do, pay attention. That’s all anyone ever can do.