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  • Carroll Devine

The Highest Calling

My End-of-the-year reflections: The highest calling in life is TO BE CALLED – to add meaningfully to the warp and weft of the fabric of life.

It is to bring passion to bear, to contribute fine silken threads, or coarse woolen ones, to the beauty, the strength, the texture, the color, the pattern, the swirl, the rustle or quiet, the tone, the interest, the hope, and the cozy comfort that life will go on.

It will go on despite all assault and battery, despite its holes, unravelings, and tears, because those with passion for the fabric will always add new threads and repair the old. Seeing beyond the cloth’s raggedness, they will envision the wholeness of its beauty.

The question is, “Who is called?”

The answer is, “Those who call themselves.”

We all have callings. Some recognize their calling early in life, some later, and some not ever. For some, the recognition may be hampered or obscured by the circumstances of their birth, their situation, their station in life, their lack of means, or their alliances and partnerships. Any of these considerations might be used as excuses for a failure to launch discovery and take action.

On the other hand, for those who are called, any circumstances, no matter how negative they seem to be, may be the very stimulus for recognizing and answering the calling.

When the Taliban tried to take control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan and began to attack girls’ schools there in 2008, Malala Yousafzai, an eleven-year old girl, gave a speech in Peshawar, in defiance of them. She then became an advocate for girls’ education in her country, demanding they be allowed schooling. She began blogging on BBC in 2009 about living under the Taliban’s threats. When she was fifteen, a Taliban gunman carried out a death threat against her and shot her in the head as she walked home from school. She not only survived, but also successfully continued her advocacy and activism and became the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, at age seventeen.

We don’t all have public callings or ones that may dramatically affect so many lives as Malala’s, but we each have an inherent obligation to recognize and follow our own calling. Some of the most important ones are those shared by mothers and fathers of the world -- the commitment to their children’s health, well-being, education, and spiritual direction, so that the children may learn their own calling.

Callings take many basic forms, for example – the calling to nurture, to heal, to counsel, to create or share beauty, or to build, teach, inspire, serve, or comfort; to negotiate, mediate, to feed, explore, research, repair, befriend, entertain, or protect, or even to stretch the limits of the physical body, that others may be motivated to stretch their boundaries. The types of calling are unlimited, as are the ways in which we answer them.

Our occupation does not define or limit how we fulfill our obligation. What matters most is that we share the light we have been given, that we help in some way to ease, not add to, the burden of the world through as many people as we encounter, and that we are good stewards.

The best we can do is the best we can do. We can be the change we want to see in the world. We can be the force for good by adding to the world’s stock of good, true and beautiful, by spreading light, not darkness, and by paying no homage to negative forces.

This wonderful and terrible world of today is beset by seemingly insurmountable problems. We, who are intent on answering our calling and doing our part to make it a better place, might consider the words of both Eldridge Cleaver and Bob Dylan who admonished us that if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem. We know that all actions, words, and even thoughts have consequences.

When we, for example, take to the Internet to assail or vilify people, whoever they may be, and however blatant or subtle our suggestion may be, we ought to first ask ourselves whether this action will only feed the problem of hostility, and consequently make us part of the problem. And what happens, on the other hand, when we use our voices only constructively, contributing to calm, inclusiveness, and solution-finding?

What can we do to become part of the solution? We can revisit our calling and discover whether by our actions, our words, and our thoughts we are answering it or denying it. And what if we don’t yet know what our calling is?

It’s not something anyone else can tell us, as Billy Crystal’s character, Mitch, in the movie, City Slickers, realizes when he is offered some advice by the wise and weathered cowboy Curly (Jack Palance).

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is? (holds up one finger) This.

Mitch: Your finger?

Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean s***.

Mitch: But what is the “one thing?”

Curly: That’s what you have to find out.

What I have found out is that it is the thing that guides our relationships and our behavior toward the world. It may or may not be our job or career, but it is what gives our life meaning, and it is our joy.

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