For Brother Brendan

Dear Housemate, today you said – forgive me, I don’t remember your words – you said something about my possessing the admirable quality of confidence and assurance in my future, my vocation. I think my reaction was a rather blank face, because I didn’t want to offend you by laughing all the purple cabbage out of my mouth. I don’t think I even ever managed to say, “Thank you, I suppose”.

Because I kind of stumbled into these vocations, grad school and ethics and professorship and whatever else; there’s nothing at all admirable about it. I worried and pondered like everyone else but in the end, these things just came to me, and I couldn’t think of anything at all I’d rather do than them. It remains to be seen whether I am even able to live up to such callings. And I still wonder and vacillate at times, feeling there are much more noble things to be done than indulge my own love of books and ideas and academic people.

Unintentionally laughable or not, your comment made me revisit vocation and how God calls us, and I tried to travel back to the days when I really didn’t know but wanted to, when I was trying to find a major and the future still felt like a liability. And I realized that all those prayers and decisions, about careers and fields of study, didn’t begin there at all. The whole course and probably the outcome of that time of discernment would have been different if it hadn’t been rooted in the years before. Before I ever thought very seriously about what I would do, God led me through a long, long process of understanding who I was called to be.

I mentioned to you that I’m not terribly worried about what I do, or whether I succeed at it anyhow; and this is why. There’s what you do for a living, and then there’s the ways you touch other people’s lives. If you’re lucky, the two will overlap, but you’re really not going to contribute to others’ happiness by mastering a technique or skill or trade. No matter what you do, the quality of your work and the way it affects others will ultimately flow out of who you are. More importantly, the way you live your whole life, your relationships with others, everything that happens in your off hours, will probably have a much greater impact on the world by the end of life than anything you accomplish between 9 A.M. and 5 P.M.

Figuring out “who I am” or who I want to be probably sounds vague and boring, the work of maybe an hour listing the normal virtues, but it wasn’t. Once I realized that life was up to me, that I had to intend to be something and it could be anything I wanted, there were months and months of envisioning myself, my future, the ways I wanted the world to be better when I left it. I prayed and prayed, studied people I admired, and tried to understand what worship means. I noticed what made me happy; I imagined my perfect day; I tried to understand what love means.

Then in the middle of my fall sophomore semester, everyone started making bucket lists, and a couple of people showed me theirs (“go to Egypt”, “get married”) and those people somehow seemed very important, and one day in a churchyard I ate lunch and made my own list in a frenzied outpouring of all I’d been imagining that year.

Now it’s been three years, and I have a few things to add; but overall, it is still one of the most important things I’ve ever written. And my vocation – my profession – whatever things I end up “doing” with my life – they have to make room for this list. They have to make me more of this person.

i miss those shoes.

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1 Comment

  1. Jacqueline in Atlanta

     /  October 7, 2012

    What an amazing person you are! I am proud to know you. I mean that with all my heart while tears run down my face.


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