Ask not, “What is the meaning of life?” but “What is the meaning of my life?”
~ Gregg Levoy, author of Callings
Why are you walking the earth? What is your call in life? Okay, narrow it down to one call then - just one call for now.
I’ll name one of mine. In an earlier post, Defining Moments, I mention that as a child I watched The Miracle Worker, the story of Helen Keller, and was so deeply impacted by the acting that I eventually find myself walking in Annie Sullivan’s shoes. In real life.
Down the road I meet my own Helen Keller, a teenage girl I’ll call Liza. A girl abandoned by her own mother and left in the care of a state institution.
Far from being indulged and spoiled rotten, as Helen had been early in life, this girl was dumped off at the school for the deaf as a young child and basically forgotten. Weekends, when parents came to collect their children and bring them home until Sunday night, Liza was left behind.
Little wonder she lost her way and became more like Sybil, whose childhood was so harrowing to her that she developed multiple personalities.
Alone in her own silent world, Liza is prone to spontaneous outbursts of violence, and it’s nothing unusual for teachers and students to suddenly see books and papers flying across the classroom during one of her tirades.
Thus my job as governess is created. So instead of attending classes, Liza remains in the dorm with me all day where she works on her school assignments and seems perfectly normal….
Until the morning she assumes a character I’ve never met, and all hell breaks loose… her hands and fingers flying like fireworks through the air…
Face, usually ashen and pale as the moon, now darkening from the sudden rush of blood, black pupils dilated wide as marbles, waning blue eyes glaring at me…
A legend of demons unleashed. Before I can even grasp what’s going down she socks it to me and topples me over.
And is suspended from the school to return home to mommy dearest.
I have no idea what became of Liza.
Another year I’m called to set the captives free. Release them from their prison for a brief reprieve each day. They’ve been herded like lambs into brick buildings, divided by age, forced to stay inside these walls for the crime of being born deaf.
Dorm parents yes. Teachers yes. Their mother’s love and warm embrace, a profound absence. Darkness looms heavy in this place like a long cold winter without end.
You sense this hunger for escape so strong, this thirst for freedom – every child’s birthright – denied too long. Yet when they see me, smiles bloom on faces, for I come offering the gift of short-lived freedom. Time for P.E.
These children have no scarcity of energy, believe you me. In fair weather we play outside, but on rainy or freezing cold days we stay in the gym where they tumble on mats or play Red Rover or tag or whatever inside game I can create.
When unleashed from their cramped classrooms and taken to the playground they rush off in all directions and scatter like loosed chickens.
My first impulse is to yell at the top of my lungs, “BACK OVER HERE RIGHT NOW!” And that’s exactly what I do for a few days, until I realize the absolute futility of shouting to deaf kids. By the end of each day I’m frazzled from running after them in every direction.
It takes me weeks to convince them that recess is not a synonym for escape. Although I wholeheartedly understand their elation at recess, they are still in my charge and I’m not about to let them cut loose and flee campus. Remember, this is not a maximum security prison.
I have no choice but to establish clear boundaries: You see this line? First big toe that crosses it goes straight back to jail. No fun, no games, no breather. Straight back to jail. No exceptions. Cry, wail, whatever; back to jail if you dare cross my line.
It takes a while but they finally get it.
Thankfully, the meaning of my life wasn’t found in continued employment at this school. Calls tend to change shape and propel us toward new vistas. Each step toward our unique destiny is worth the journey, no matter how harrowing at times.
So, what is a call in your life? And how did you discover it?