Last Saturday I spent the day in Atlanta with my family as the first stop on our summer vacation. I got to plan that leg of the trip, so the history buff inside of me opted to do the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. And I think it turned out to be very meaningful for everyone in the family. This was my second time to the memorial and it was just as powerful the second time. MLK was a remarkable individual. No matter what controversies or facts others can trump up about MLK, one fact remains unchanged: he answered his calling to lead the Civil Rights Movement. And I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if he had not answered that call. Would someone else have taken up the call and come along? Would the minority children of America dare to have a dream? Hypothetical questions are frustrating because you can think of all different kinds of scenarios but it’s hard to tell what really would have happened under different circumstances. So we can’t rely on the hypothetical. We can’t rely on the idea of different circumstances leading to a different storyline, where things still get accomplished and worked out. I do believe in multiple paths to every place that one may wish to go, but one would still have to be committed to that final destination. There’s a quote in the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where MLK preached on Sundays, about how he felt called to lead his people. He wrote in one of his papers, “I come to you with only the claim of beign a servant of Christ, and a feeling of dependence on his grace for my leadership. I come with a feeling that I have been called to preach and to lead God’s people.”
I think that having a calling in life can be extremely scary, no matter who you believe is calling you or for what you believe you are being called to do. After all, what is a calling but a strong feeling or conviction, whether by your will or against it, that you are meant to do activity x with your life. And that strong feeling comes from knowledge deep within that your life would not be quite as complete if you did not do activity x. What I have found is that those callings are usually not what we would have wanted, and they never seem to come quite at what would usually be deemed as an “appropriate” time. However, the whole “finding a purpose” in life tends to go from the realm of aspirations to hokey catchphrases, especially within the four years of a liberal arts education. People are always stressing the importance of finding that thing in life that you are good at and pursuing it. Rarely does someone tell you that maybe what you are meant to do isn’t something that you are naturally good at, or is apparent from the start. It’s not always just about what we are good at, but also what we’re passionate about. That brings me back to why callings can be extremely scary. We often don’t feel prepared to have one, and not nearly ready to execute the tasks associated with one. I can think of other reluctant people with callings in life: Moses and leading the Israelites out of Egypt, Lincoln and slavery, to just throw out the big names. We remember the end results and the fame, but often forget how ill prepared and ill equipped they felt at first to do what was needed of them. I think that where callings slip into the realm of a hokey catchphrase is when we think that our calling in life has to be something big and grand, rather than it just being something that could rock the ground beneath our very own feet, even if it doesn’t seem to rock the entire world. I would rather have my own patch of green to tend to than to walk through other people’s gardens, wishing I had my own.
It matters less about what the calling is, in the end, and more about whether or not we answer when we hear and/or feel it. It’s definitely easier said than done. There have certainly been things in my life I felt as though I ought to do, but tried my best to avoid doing them, and sometimes, just did not do. And there were always consequences to those (lack of) actions. There’s some pressure when I begin a journey to hope that it will lead me one step closer to what it is I’m supposed to be doing with this life—and that I’ll be good at whatever it turns out to be. I’m beginning to be okay with failing at a task, although being able to shake it off is still new territory. When I was younger I wanted to be an astronaut then a teacher then a Supreme Court judge (apparently I wanted to skip all the formality in between becoming a judge), and then the dream was to be a lawyer. I have managed to accumulate lots of legal experience, from private practices to large legal nonprofits. I’m still interested in the law, but over the years I’ve found something else that compels me to take action in a way the law never quite did. I love the feeling of imparting knowledge to a child. I love that little piece of joy when you see the glimmer of hope in a child’s eyes. And I want to be a part of helping make the world safer and more peaceful by raising generations of children to practice peace before they take action in conflict. And it seems like a lot, and not enough all at the same time, but maybe this year in Ghana will give me some seeds to plant in my garden—or, at the least, some tools to use when those seeds finally do come along.