Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Heeding The Call

Remember, as a child, hearing your mother’s or your father’s voice, calling your name? If I close my eyes, I can still hear that call. I’m out in the backyard, perhaps, in the orchard behind the Rectory; or out in front, on the swing that hangs from the great old pine tree; or upstairs, in my room. I’d like to bet, if you close your eyes, that you can hear a similar call, in a place that has a particular resonance for you. Close your eyes. Hear your name. Re-imagine the precise detail of the place, the time of day, the circumstance. Someone, somewhere, is calling you…

But I want to talk about “calling” in that other sense, the calling that is the name for what I am given to do with my life, what I was put here on this earth to do. Call it a mission. Each of us, I firmly believe, has that mission, that sense of purpose. When we discover it, when we’re able to pursue it consciously, we are most likely to be at ease with ourselves and those around us. We are authentic. We are “in integrity,” in the sense that we are on target, whole. Everything we do and everything we say feels right. We are comfortable with it. As some say, we are in flow.

While we are still looking for it—this sense of purpose—or ignoring it, or unaware of it, we flounder. We are scattered. We feel ill at ease with ourselves and others. Remember that feeling when your name was called? You felt, perhaps, recognized, your very being was somehow affirmed. If you follow your calling, this is how you feel. At one with yourself.

There are signs everywhere. You only have to watch out for them with quiet, careful attention and they’ll show you the way. Some are as small and unobtrusive as a burned-out light bulb, say, or a chance encounter. There are no accidents. Some come in the form of miraculous messages from the universe. When my wife and I were debating the affordability of our little cottage in Laguna Beach, for example, we found ourselves embroiled in one of those huge quarrels that threaten the very survival of a marriage. We took a walk down to the shore, still arguing hotly, when my wife, Ellie, pointed to a black blob riding in on the surf. A sea lion. It came to rest literally at our feet, rolled over and waved a flipper at us. We wondered whether it was sick and needed help, but as soon as others spotted it from further down the beach and started running in our direction, it simply turned around and swam back out of sight.

Needless to say, we hurried back home and signed the real estate agreement. It would be nice, of course, if all our signs were as unambiguous as this one. They are not. But they are there, if we take the trouble to watch out for them, and pay heed to their invitation—or warning.

I was fifty years old when I finally paid attention to what the signs from the universe we trying to tell me, and learned that it was time to be a writer. I was Dean of the Arts at Loyola Marymount University at the time. I had been attracted to the job by the then President’s lure of funds to put up a new arts complex, to bring the fine arts up to the same standing as the excellent existing film and television departments. During my three-year tenure, though, the entire administration changed: the President who had appointed me was shunted out, a new Academic Vice President was installed—and I found him in one of my new painting studios, pacing it out to see how many desks he could fit in there, intending to co-opt it as a classroom for his academic programs…

A familiar pattern of events had begun to repeat itself, and this time I was unable to ignore it. I decided it was time to try my hand at being serious about what had called me from the age of twelve. It was time to be the writer I was always supposed to be. I managed to disentangle myself from those particular chains, and I have been grateful for the freedom ever since.

What I have learned from this and other experiences is that one key to creative success is the ability to listen to the call and watch for the signs. When I do both these things I know that I’m on the right track.

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